Friday , 20 September 2019

Media disregard for award winners shows inability to grasp diversity

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It seems the mainstream media still don’t “get” LGBTI issues.

Or even the existence of an diverse LGBTI community – even among those sections of the media anxious to appear inclusive to the point they sponsor LGBTI events.

This week, the first ever Scottish LGBTI Awards ceremony was held in Glasgow. The media was there in force, but anyone depending on the mainstream press to accurately report on what took place, or even the significance of the occasion, was likely to have been highly disappointed.

Media outlets invariably referred to the awards as “gay”, “lesbian and gay” or “LGBT”, completely overlooking the fact that these awards were meant for Scottish lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans/trans* and intersex communities.

They also seemed to misunderstand the purpose of the awards – that of celebrating diversity, recognising the immense work of LGBTI campaigners and volunteers and rewarding grassroots activism. All this seemed lost on a media obsession with Nicola Sturgeon – although, to be fair, one or two reports did mention some of the celebrities in attendance.

That the First Minister’s award should be headline news is understandable, but this should not have had the effect of detracting from the many other deserving winners and nominees who have invariably been not only overlooked but wilfully ignored.

Having attended the LGBTI Awards personally, I found it something of a mystery why the mainstream media failed to see what I considered to be so obvious – that this was a historic occasion in which the LGBTI community has come together to share, reflect, inspire and celebrate what makes us who we are.

The Scotsman’s reporting of the event is a case in point. Leading with the headline “Nicola Sturgeon a winner at gay and lesbian awards”, reporter Russell Jackson seemed to completely misunderstand either the purpose of the awards or the essential reality that not every LGBTI person is homosexual.

This was particularly disappointing as the Sunday edition of The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, is the official media partner for the LGBTI Awards.  It is quite remarkable that such ignorance of LGBTI issues – and the purpose of the awards they are sponsoring – should be made so obvious in a few hundred words.

In response to the article in question, I sent an e-mail to the Scotsman, which can be read in full below:

To whom it may concern,

I am writing in connection with your recent report on the LGBTI Awards ceremony, held in Glasgow on 10th September.

Your article, headlined “Nicola Sturgeon a winner at gay and lesbian awards”, is unhelpful in two key respects.

Firstly, these were not “gay and lesbian” awards. They were LGBTI awards – for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans/trans* and intersex people. Admittedly the article makes use of the LGBTI acronym in the opening sentence, but thereafter completely ignores any bisexual, trans or intersex issues – or indeed, any of the outstanding representatives from our BTI communities that were recognised on the night.

I understand that your sister paper, Scotland on Sunday, is the “official media partner” for the LGBTI Awards and therefore it is quite concerning that your reporter should demonstrate such an ignorance of what they were about. The headline itself is lazy enough, and certainly does little to improve transgender, bisexual or intersex visibility – frankly, it made me feel like something of a non-person in the writer’s eyes – but the rest of the article is little better. As a non-binary pansexual person myself (look it up), I found the headline exclusive and inaccurate, suggesting that even “media partners” of these kinds of events still have little grasp of how non-inclusive they are.

To refer to these awards as “gay and lesbian” is not only factually inaccurate; it diminishes the achievements of BTI people and suggests that they are somehow lesser beings compared to their G and L counterparts. I would hope in future the Scotsman recognises the diversity of our LGBTI communities, rather than simply labelling us all as homosexual.

Secondly, it was regrettable that you chose to focus your story entirely on the First Minister. Her award was clearly significant, and it is understandable that the mainstream media would wish to highlight this, but unfortunately you have opted to do so at the expense of the many other deserving winners. Effectively, you have chosen to ignore the efforts and achievements of Scotland’s LGBTI communities that these awards were created to celebrate – and the LGBTI community itself.

Your article mentions the Journalist of the Year and Outstanding Campaigner awards, but yet – bafflingly – makes no mention of the winners. All other categories are completely overlooked. These awards were not about Ms Sturgeon, but the achievements of Scotland’s diverse LGBTI community.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the lack of LGBTI – and particularly bisexual, trans and intersex – visibility is an ongoing problem and something that the Equality Network (who were hosting the awards) is anxious to tackle. Sadly, your article underlines the degree to which the mainstream media continues to ignore LGBTI people and the issues affecting them, even when covering LGBTI events.

I would have expected better from the Scotsman, and certainly from a “media partner” of the event.

Yours Sincerely,

Andrew Page

Not only has this shoddy journalism raised questions about general standards of reporting on LGBTI issues within the mainstream press; it also asks pertinent questions of the role of “media partners”. While understandably the Equality Network needs supportive allies in both the LGBTI and mainstream media, if those allies demonstrate such a blatant lack of sensitivity towards many of the charity’s objectives – and misjudge the essential purpose of the event they are supporting – are they actually fit to be “media partners” at all?

It it admittedly something of a triumph to report on an LGBTI awards ceremony without mentioning by name any LGBTI person either winning or nominated for an award, aside from Lifetime Achievement Award winner Derek Ogg QC.

Of course I’m interested in Nicola Sturgeon, and what she had to say (it was well worth listening to). But I’m also interested in the triumphs of the Glasgay! Festival, the work of groups such as LGBT Unity Scotland and LEAP Sports, the extraordinary testimony of trans activist Mridul Wadhwa, the vision of Beyond Gender and the work of the Gay Police Association. All of these were winners on the night – but no-one would be aware of this by reading anything written by The Scotsman or indeed any other mainstream media outlet. (Or even Gay Times, which similarly failed to grasp the signficance of the occasion.)

The Scotsman is probably no worse than most other media outlets, and in fact is infinitely preferable to some of them. But the truth is its reporting not only left a lot to be desired, but had the effect of diminishing what I believe the Equality Network were trying to do.

The sad reality is that Scottish mainsteam media doesn’t “get” LGBTI issues, or even the concept of full equality. To them, awards ceremonies are simply commercial opportunities to be exploited to the max – while anxious to be associated with the “right” causes, the evidence suggests they care little for actively promoting the Equality Network’s ethos of inclusion or increasing the visibility of minority groups.

About Andrew Page

Andrew Page
Andrew is KaleidoScot's sports editor and photographer. An experienced blogger, Andrew was raised in the Hebrides and currently lives in Renfrewshire. Andrew became an active equality campaigner at the time of the Section 28 debate, and has particular interests in faith issues and promoting LGBTI equality in sport. Andrew was shortlisted for the Icon Award's 2015 Journalist of the Year.

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