How do people grow up whilst being neglected by their media? 

​You may look at society and feel that a sense of inclusion and togetherness has been achieved for the LGBTQ+ community. However, is this just an illusion that has been created, allowing media organisations to mask their discriminatory news agendas? 

​Entertainment has come so far. Shows such as Ru Paul’s Drag Race, and It’s a Sin have been successful in highlighting LGBTQ+ talents and issues, developing more conversation. But news is still a host for derogatory comments, in particular surrounding gender. 

​According to a study conducted by Involve [an organisation working to increase diversity and inclusion within business] conducted in 2021, 52 percent of gay people interviewed believed that news and press representation was either highly negative or negative, the response from transgender participants was an alarming 75 percent. This demonstrates the differing opinions within the community. 

​The most shocking statistic from this study is that 74 percent of people believe that they have witnessed discriminatory behaviour that they believe is related to the portrayals of LGBTQ+ people within the media, and 53 percent of people have personally experienced this, highlighting the desperate need for an improvement in how the UK media represents diverse groups of society. 

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​When speaking with Leah Wlodarczyk, a non-binary retail worker, about feeling represented within the media, they explained: “I do not feel represented within news coverage. If anything, when they do discuss LGBTQ+ people it is in a damaging way that is detrimental to the equality that we are trying to achieve.” 

The degree of underrepresentation varies between sections of the community. The Involve survey revealed that roughly 80 percent of people questioned believed that trans people were underrepresented, this number for other LGBTQ+ identities was 71 percent and for gay men this number was 19 percent. 

​The absence of positive news representation of LGBTQ+ people is worrying at this stage in society. Leah expressed their concern, saying: “Representation is important, I think if I had seen someone like me in the news whilst I was figuring out who I am, it would have made the situation a lot easier, I would have felt less alone and afraid. I had assumed that being gay was a terrible thing and that is a terrible thing for any 10-year-old to think.” 

​Derogative comments surrounding gender appear to be an accepted norm within UK news. 

Great Britain News reporter Patrick Christys has recently come under fire for his comments surrounding transgender women being placed into women’s prisons, claiming that transgender women were more likely to commit sex offences and that placing women who remain “physically male” makes the other women vulnerable to such acts. This implies that transgender people are more likely to be sexual attackers. He further went onto explain that he believes that “changing your gender is often presented to children like a change of clothes”, which was seen by many as a ridicule of trans lives. 

​Other well-known journalists have been known to openly support gay rights but remain sceptical surrounding gender issues. Piers Morgan was heavily criticised for his comments surrounding the number of recognised genders on Good Morning Britain. His comments included accusations that gender fluidity was damaging to society, saying: “Is that not damaging to society if we allow everyone to self-identify how the hell they like?” 

​Leah expressed how these comments made them feel incredibly offended and worried about news representation, stating: “He should have been fired, it is not just his own personal views that are incredibly offensive to us, he has a large audience that he can easily influence and if anything, this could put the quality of LGBTQ+ people’s lives at risk.” 

This raises a question of whether there us a space for debate on these issues.

Leah referred to entertainment as a “safe space” for the LGBTQ+ community and that expressed hope at the prospects of young people growing up with prominent gay, trans or non-binary people in the public eye in reducing the isolation whilst navigating self-identification.  

The exposure to positive representation can also be impacted by other factors including education and social background. 

​Charlie West, an openly gay, Oxford University student, expressed his concern about the absence of news coverage. He said: “For those people from working-class backgrounds, from schools where the teachers were too worried about closures due to underfunding to provide proper sex education, how will they find out about PrEP? [an antiviral drug used to prevent the spread of HIV] How will they learn to practice safe sex?”  

​Charlie feels that middle classes are not as disadvantaged. “University students, usually from middle class backgrounds, will find themselves participating in more intellectual conversations surrounding the issues and will be better informed.” 

He revealed his concern towards some decisions made by broadcasting companies, such as the BBC deciding to withdraw from Stonewall’s ‘Diversity Champions’ scheme which was in place to help achieve workplace equality. Stonewall is a pressure group that works to promote the equality for the LGBTQ+ community. Stonewall claimed that this was a result of workplaces being urged to cut back on equality measures for LGBTQ+ employees but the BBC argued that they will continue to support their workers independently. 

Charlie condemned the ‘Nolan investigates- Stonewall’ podcast by the BBC, which was created to assess the impact and influence that Stonewall has had within organisations from a negative perspective. He said: “This podcast has been edited in a way, using dramatic music and negative vocabulary, that paints the group to be overly aggressive and damaging to society, it is surprising that it was allowed to be published.”

​Statistics can only show the extent of a problem in simple terms, but the way the problems behind the statistics can impact people’s lives is what is important. A 2019 study conducted by the Williams Institute School of Law discovered that 98 percent of transgender respondents who had experienced more than four cases of discrimination has thought about committing suicide, 51 percent of these people attempted suicide that year. It also discovered that 13 percent of people were refused proper mental health support due to their transgender status.  

The issue surrounding underrepresentation in the media is dangerous and must be addressed. 

As discussions are normalised and more widely commented on, there is room for improvement in the way that the LGBTQ+ community is represented. Leah explained their hope for the future, saying: “There has been an improvement and I am optimistic that eventually LGBTQ+ people will be entirely normalised and celebrated within the media and society.” 

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