As journalists, we must use the correct terms, ask the right questions, show queer people in a dignified way, and most importantly – write sensitive stories.

How to report about LGBTQIA people Guidelines for journalistsImage for representation. Courtesy: PTI
news LGBTQI+ Tuesday, August 06, 2019 - 11:22

Media coverage of LGBTQIA+ issues has increased in the last few years. We write about pride marches, instances of violence, individual achievements – and also on larger social, economic, and policy issues about queer people. But not all stories that appear in the media are sensitive. Some get terminology wrong, others sensationalise without considering the impact of our stories on the real lives of people. Sometimes, stories are reported by people who have little understanding of issues that the marginalised communities face. And at other times, journalists don’t take the consent of the people involved before publishing a story or a photograph. The problems are many.

We get it. We’re a news organisation, too, and we understand that genuine mistakes happen. We understand the anxiety from ‘missing’ a story that someone else has. We understand the energy in a newsroom when you think you want justice for someone and that another party is denying you an opportunity to bring them justice. Yes, it’s frustrating. However, that’s no excuse to put people through distress deliberately or because of your ignorance.

This is not a blame game. As journalists and media organisations, all of us have made mistakes and we continue to make mistakes. But unless we’re willing to learn from them and correct ourselves, there is no growing. As a queer person and as a journalist, these are some guidelines that I believe media should follow when reporting about LGBTQIA+ persons and issues.

1. Terminology: Newsrooms are careful when it comes to names and spellings, designations and honorifics, when it comes to anything ‘mainstream’, like politics or entertainment. But when it comes to queer people, I feel there is an attitude of ‘anything goes’. When a mistake is pointed out, some journalists get defensive – almost as if the media is doing queer people a favour by even covering an issue. This is not only disrespectful, it’s also poor journalism. Here’s a list of correct terms in English for different identities:

  • When referring to the queer community as a whole, you can use the terms ‘queer community’, and ‘LGBTQIA+ community’. For an individual, use terms like, ‘a gay man’, ‘a lesbian woman’, ‘a queer person’, ‘an intersex person’, ‘a bisexual person’, ‘an asexual person’, ‘a transgender person’, ‘a transgender woman’, ‘a transgender man’, etc. You can also shorten transgender to ‘trans’, and there use ‘a trans person’, ‘a trans woman’, ‘a trans man’ etc.
  • AVOID using terms like ‘the gays’, ‘the transgenders’, ‘transgenders’ etc – they’re dehumanising. Just like you wouldn’t group together short people as ‘shorts’, or fat people as ‘fats’, STOP SAYING ‘transgenders’. Instead, you can use, ‘transgender persons’, ‘transgender people’, ‘trans women’, ‘trans men’ etc.
  • When you’re speaking to a queer person for a story, always ask them what their pronouns are. Some people use he/his, some use she/her, some use they/them. Their pronouns can also be xe/xim/xis. Whatever it is, you need to ask them and not assume.

2. Fetishisation and voyeurism: Human beings don’t exist for the viewing pleasure of a journalist or a reader. When telling stories, avoid fetishising the gender and sexuality of a person or a group. For instance, if you’re doing a story about a queer couple who has faced discrimination, there is no need to show them having a private moment in order to show them as a couple. Would you do this for a cis straight couple? If not, ask yourself why you’re doing this for a queer couple.

3. Do not ‘deadname’ people: A lot of stories about queer people, especially trans people, are constructed around ‘HE USED TO BE A WOMAN!!! NOW HE’S A MAN’ or ‘BORN AS A MAN NOW A WOMAN’. This is wrong, and tasteless. Along with such a narrative, there is usually a lot of ‘deadnaming’ – where the birth-name a person has ‘killed’ or left behind is used. This is disrespectful and triggering for a lot of people. Unless someone has specifically told you that they want their deadname used in a story for a specific reason, DO NOT do so. There is no reason to even ask a person for their deadname for a story. You’re just doing it to satisfy some misplaced curiosity that you have, that does not add anything to the story.

4. Represent the right people: In the wire copy that a lot of media houses reproduced last week about a queer couple thrown out of a hotel for allegedly behaving ‘inappropriately’, a representative from the hotel industry who has no connection to the story has been quoted, saying people can be kicked out for causing ‘nuisance’. This quote is not only unnecessary, it’s justifying the discrimination. Instead, why not a quote from a queer activist – particularly a lesbian woman?

Also, don’t just keep going back to the first queer person who will pick up your call for opinions on every single story. If it's a story about trans people, don't automatically quote the first cis man activist that you know. Understand that some communities and identities have more visibility than others – and realise that as journalists, we must ensure we're not feeding into the status quo. Look out for more voices, speak to more people, don't quote the same people again and again.

5. Respect people’s judgment: A decade or two of experience as a journalist is not going to make up for the lived experiences of marginalised communities. If they tell you they don’t want something put in, respect their judgment and take it out. Run their quotes by them, discuss with them what images/visuals you’re going to put along with the story, and if anything makes them feel uncomfortable, understand why and change it.

6. Ask yourself, why: Why are you doing a particular story? Is it because the story is going to help someone get justice, help communities in their fight for rights, push for policy changes that help people? Or is it because it’s something that will get you clicks/views? Something that will satisfy your curiosity, make you feel better about yourself, make you feel like you’ve done some charity? If it is the latter category – stop, think about it, and don’t do it.

7. Do no harm: As journalists, our job cannot be over with writing a story and publishing it. Understand that some people and communities are at risk of violence in every walk of life – and discuss the repercussions of publishing a story in a certain way with the people involved in the story. Is your story going to unknowingly ‘out’ someone? Is it going to lead to isolation in their families? Is it going to create trouble for them at their workplace? Are they prepared for the sometimes inexplicable hate that could come their way on social media? Do they have a support system for their mental health? And why are you telling this story – for whom and to what end?

These are basics – learned from interacting with other queer people. They’re not exhaustive, and every story will need a different sensitivity.

News organisations often ‘aggregate’ from multiple sources – it’s a truth that no news organisation in India, including us at The News Minute, can deny. It’s both good and bad – good, because it reduces the unnecessary importance given to ‘access’ journalism. And bad, because now a lot of journalists can get away with zero original reporting. Also, we depend on wire services and news agencies we’ve subscribed to, to give information to our readers that we may not always have the resources to get ourselves. However, when it comes to sensitive issues about rights, discrimination, and violence, can media houses simply say “oh we just aggregated from other sources” or “oh it was a wire copy”, and not take responsibility for what goes out under our name, on our websites?

The bottomline is – queer people are human beings. Don't treat us like we're objects in a museum for cis straight people's amusement. Tell stories that are important, that will help people, and that will challenge the status quo.

And if you can’t do that, stay away.

If any LGBTQIA+ identified person would like to send feedback, or add to the guidelines, please email: ragamalika@thenewsminute.com.

 
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