We need impartial LGBT+ news to advance human rights

Thursday, 27 September 2018 10:05 GMT

Participants hold placards during a protest demanding an end to what they say is discrimination and violence against the transgender community, in Bengaluru, India October 21, 2016. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Openly aims to become the ultimate source of LGBT+ news in an environment where the topic remains largely under-reported

“Filthy”, “diseased”, “devil worshipper”, “disgusting”, “abnormal”, “paedophile”. These were real words used by some media outlets around the world this year when reporting on LGBT+ people.

This might sound shocking. After all, we are more accustomed to the media reporting the victories for marriage equality, the growing corporate support for LGBT+ inclusion and the increased visibility of trans people. 

But this is a narrative that mostly belongs to the “progressive” West, and one that has only emerged in the past two decades. Recently, an older friend shared with me an article from 1981 that described the opening of a London gay club in terms that today would solicit an Independent Press Standards Organisation investigation.

So much has changed since then. People’s hearts and minds have opened towards greater acceptance of LGBT+ people. The media has played a key role in making this shift happen, gradually moving away from a witch hunt narrative in favour of more factual and fair reporting.

Sadly, in many countries around the world, such a shift has yet to occur. 

In Uganda, a national newspaper published a front-page story with the headline “Top Homos”, “Hang them”. The article argued that gay men in Uganda have set a target to “recruit one million children”.

In Jamaica, a recent article headlined “Homo Thugs!” claimed “gun-toting gays” were terrorising local communities. The story argued that many gangsters and criminals were directly linked to the gay community through a network of male escorts. 

In Russia, where the 2013 anti-gay propaganda law forbids the promotion of attitudes and behaviours that contradict “traditional family values”, popular media has shifted towards a narrative which portrays LGBT+ people as paedophiles. 

The “Occupy Paedophilia” vigilantes movement openly targets gay men. After entrapping them through dating apps, supporters of the group savagely beat their victims, posting their “victories” online, where – unchallenged by the authorities – talk of “hunting season” incites others to do the same.

Now, imagine for a second that you are on the receiving end of such public and vicious abuse. How would this impact your safety, your personal life and your career?

For millions of people around the world, the media actually constitutes a threat to life, a dangerous amplifier of stereotypes, prejudice and hatred. When this happens, nobody wins. 

A study by USAID and the Williams Institute at UCLA found a strong correlation between inclusion of LGBT+ people and better-performing economies, one that is quantified by approximately 3 percent of GDP for each additional policy spearheading LGBT+ acceptance that is implemented. 

On a similar note, the World Bank estimates that India is losing $32 billion a year in economic output precisely because of widespread discrimination against LGBT+ people. 

The latest study by Open for Business goes even further, making a direct correlation between LGBT+ inclusion and the competitive advantage of cities. The analysis argues that cities that are LGBT+ inclusive perform better than others in three main areas: talent attraction, innovation and overall quality of living.

The media plays a fundamental role in shaping attitudes towards social and political issues. This has always been the case. “The medium is the message”, the Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan famously argued. And even in the current “post-truth” era, the media retains the ultimate power to profoundly influence the public’s beliefs. 

To be clear, I am not arguing that the media should have a pro-LGBT+ agenda. I am calling for good journalism, that by definition is impartial, fair and accurate; reporting that sticks to the facts, leaves prejudice behind and is bound by truth-telling alone. This journalism still exists.

That is why, today, we are launching Openly, a global LGBT+ news and information platform powered by the journalism of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Openly aims to fill a critical gap in the market, bringing high-quality LGBT+ news to the widest possible audience and includes non-LGBT+ readers. Thanks to a powerful distribution model, our stories will be published on a dedicated digital portal - openlynews.com – as well as reaching all Reuters media clients – a daily audience of 1bn.

Authoritative, impartial, non-advocacy journalism plays a significant role in advancing human rights. By shedding light on the many and important issues affecting LGBT+ people around the world we can effect powerful change. When we reported about a discriminatory sex education campaign run by the government of Malaysia a few months ago, the media pressure resulting from our story prompted the Malaysian Health Ministry to amend the contest, dropping the “gender identity disorder” category they had initially included.   

LGBT+ rights are human rights. In the words of the UN, they are “a development imperative”. At a time when the Sustainable Development Goals commit us all to “leave no one behind”, it’s through the power of the media that we can ensure these goals are met.

When trusted, factual journalism thrives, society is always in better shape. 

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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