GLAAD has released its report on LGBTQ and HIV news coverage in the South, and its findings are troubling. Though the South is home to 35% of the United States’ LGBTQ+ population — the highest portion of any region in the country — many of the region’s publications have failed to publish fair and inclusive news coverage.
To conduct research for the report, GLAAD analyzed newspapers and television news sources across the South between June 2019 and December 2020 and gave them a rating of excellent, good, fair, or poor. These ratings were based on various metrics, including, but not limited to, the fair and accurate reporting of LGBTQ issues, the use of correct terminology, and refraining from using distortions of the LGBTQ community.
Of the Georgia news outlets GLAAD looked at, zero were considered excellent in terms of LGBTQ coverage, making it one of the worst rated states in the South. As Pride approaches, it is important to consider how news sources in the region and state can improve.
Transgender activist and media strategist at GLAAD, Raquel Willis, believes Georgia should start by focusing on increasing the quantity of publications about LGBTQ+ and HIV stories.
“A few factors that play a role in whether a newspaper or media outlet is doing its due diligence is looking at the number of stories,” Willis told Georgia Voice. “Are issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community being covered? And that can be whether the story is based on identity or based on experience — for instance, living with both HIV and AIDS.”
However, Willis points to more than the quantity of LGBTQ stories: she wants the quality and perspective of these pieces to accurately represent the community and the issues facing it.
“Are the right experts being tapped to lend credence to what is being reported?” Willis asked. “Is there a kind of awareness about the numerous factors of determination that LGBTQ+ folks face, whether we’re looking at disparities in unemployment, access to education, access to health care, food security, on and on?”
GLAAD’s report aligns with Willis’s messaging. Specifically, the report reaffirms the importance of how fair and accurate reporting can help destigmatize LGBTQ and HIV-positive populations.
“Accurate reporting can also combat misconceptions about perceived protections or federal equality standards: Most Americans believe that LGBTQ people have federal protections in areas of life in which they do not, particularly in states across the South, where a majority of LGBTQ people live,” GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in the report. “The reality is that as of July 2021 there are no consistent and explicit federal antidiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in housing, education, public accommodations, and many other areas of life.”
This type of destigmatization is crucial, given the degree of discomfort many still feel toward the LGBTQ population. GLAAD’s first Accelerating Acceptance report revealed that levels of discomfort toward the LGBTQ population in the United States is at 43%, and in the South, discomfort reached 61%.
Willis cites this discomfort as one of the major reasons it is important to take GLAAD’S findings and apply them to journalistic and news broadcasting practices.
“One of the things GLAAD has hit hard on is how low the acceptance levels can be in the South, particularly for folks with HIV,” she said. “There’s a lot of stigma, particularly in the South, which is also a place where there are a lot of infections.”
When it comes to Georgia specifically, Willis says recognizing Atlanta’s history is an important part of covering LGBTQ issues.
“One thing that is particularly important for a Georgia-based or Atlanta-based publication is that there is such a rich history of LGBTQ experience as resistance and leadership particularly within Atlanta,” she said. “So, it is very important for us to find ways to elevate the stories and the voices of LGBTQ people living there.”
“As someone who is from Georgia but has also lived in many places all over the country, it is often a major historical oversight of the strides that have been made in Atlanta,” Willis continued. “So, we got to know that history and got to know what’s currently happening with LGBTQ folks in Atlanta, and that’s going to pave the way for what is possible in the future.”
Indeed, Atlanta hopes to embrace its rich LGBTQ history during Pride. However, the power to keep on highlighting this history while embracing a more inclusive future is in the hands of news outlets that can take GLAAD’S findings and improve their coverage on LGBTQ and HIV issues.