The rise of LGBTQ+ awareness in mainstream media

Guest writer, Hadley Stewart, examines the situation of LGBTQ+ journalism.

The media haven’t always got it right when it comes to LGBTQ+ topics. We all remember notorious headlines and stories that have offended LGBTQ+ people, serving as a reminder of the lack of understanding and awareness around LGBTQ+ issues. Perhaps it’s not surprising that LGBTQ+ issues aren’t always taken into consideration by certain mainstream outlets, since we are living in a heteronormative society. Given the media’s important influence upon our society, the consequences of negatively portraying LGBTQ+ people and topics are potentially damaging. Fortunately, there is a growing number of journalists, writers and editors who are stepping out of the LGBTQ+ media box and penetrating the straight media club.

As a gay man, I notice that when I was growing up, LGBTQ+ topics were seldom discussed in ‘mainstream’ publications. When they were, they were written drenched in salaciousness and scandal. The media must reflect all members of our society, yet this isn’t always the case. LGBTQ+ people have been left on the media’s periphery of thought for too long, with a lack of representation leaving LGBTQ+ people feeling isolated and ignored. Yes, publications that are dedicated to an LGBTQ+ readership have their place in the media landscape, but the positive discussion of LGBTQ+ issues by the mainstream media is even more important. It allows for meaningful conversations to be formed within wider society on LGBTQ+ topics, facilitating greater awareness of these issues.

LGBTQ+ people have been left on the media’s periphery of thought for too long, with a lack of representation leaving LGBTQ+ people feeling isolated and ignored.

LGBTQ+ writers have such an important role to play in the journey towards creating an open-minded and accepting society. We too have important stories to tell, inspiring the next generation of LGBTQ+ people that our place in society is just as important as our heterosexual peers. Not all LGBTQ+ young people have a sense of belonging, which means that LGBTQ+ writers must take on this role, through writing about issues that are important to them. Today, it’s encouraging to see certain titles taking a more active role to talk about LGBTQ+ issues.

An example of this being the UK arm of BuzzFeed hiring Patrick Strudwick as their LGBT editor. Patrick is just one example of the difference an LGBT editor can make upon the content and tone of a publication. An article that stands out for me is Patrick’s article on the experiences of chemsex amongst gay men. I doubt that many of BuzzFeed’s heterosexual readership had ever heard of chemsex before, and if they had, it may not have been treated in such an appropriate tone. The discussion of these topics allows for a diverse audience to become more educated about such issues, ultimately allowing people to feel more comfortable talking about them.

When The Guyliner (Justin Myers) wrote ‘Grindr: a first-timer’s guide’ for British GQ, my initial reaction was to hope that he’d continue writing for them. Rightly so, he’s still writing online columns under the British GQ masthead. Not only do I enjoy The Guyliner’s smart humour, but his ability to criticise almost everything that his reader is guilty of doing, whilst leaving them with the sentiment that he is no better, is un-paralleled. His blog was already being read by a diverse audience, yet his byline in British GQ sent an important message: this is not just a ‘straight’ magazine. There are a plethora of gay men that read British GQ, so why not talk about the issues that they care about too? It’s about time that newspapers and magazines moved away from the idea that they can only cater for either heterosexual or gay readers. By blurring the boundaries between groups of readers, they allow for a more accurate reflection of their audience in their content.

It’s about time that newspapers and magazines moved away from the idea that they can only cater for either heterosexual or gay readers.

An unlikely place for discussing LGBTQ+ topics are the pages of Teen Vogue. The American magazine for teenagers has undergone a significant revamp in the past year. Most recently, it has been praised for its coverage of the US elections. The publication’s ability to speak to its younger audience like adults has facilitated the next generation to join the political debate. Phillip Picardi, Digital Editorial Director at Teen Vogue, stated in an interview with CNN that there had been an increase in LGBTQ+ subject coverage. The debate around discussing sexuality and gender identity with young people is always a colourful one. I’d argue that the magazine’s decision to talk to their readers about LGBTQ+ topics is vital, given that young people do not always have an open-minded entourage to talk about such issues. Likewise, young people may be dismissed from the conversation entirely, through fear of them being ‘too young’. This mistake results in young people having a lack of understanding and misconceptions about sexuality and gender identity.

The media remains one of the most powerful tools of influence within our society. Young LGBTQ+ people have the right to feel represented across all spectrums of society, and not feel pigeonholed into the ‘LGBTQ+ box’. There is always going to be a place in society for LGBTQ+ publications, but it is also the responsibility of other titles to take into consideration the full spectrum of their readership. Demonstrating that it’s OK to talk about LGBTQ+ topics in a space that isn’t LGBTQ+ specific, gives young people and LGBTQ+ people the assurance that they are not ‘other’, but ‘part of’ society.

Follow Hadley (@wordsbyhadley) on Twitter.

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