Score another one for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s inaccurate and unfair coverage of the LGBTQ community.
This time, reporter Mary Neiderberger is at bat. She recently wrote a piece about homeless youth in Allegheny County using somewhat accurate and fair language about the impact of sexual orientation and gender identity on the number of youth on the streets or couch surfing.
Well, okay, no she didn’t – she used “sexual orientation” with no mention of gender identity or gender expression. Erasing gender identity as a causal factor in youth homelessness is a significant lapse. She could perhaps spend an evening on The Stroll along Liberty Avenue to meet many young trans women in that exact position.
This week, Neiderberger topped herself in her coverage of a similar topic – plans by the County and City to address youth homelessness. This time, Neiderberger explained that some youth are ejected from their homes due to “sexual preference” again with no mention of gender identity or gender expression.
Her report indicates that nightly about 240 homeless young adults live on the streets, facing the risk of being robbed or assaulted or the choice of trading sex for shelter. The group is divided among those who left foster care, ran away or were kicked out of their homes, possibly over their sexual preferences.
Why is this a problem?
1. The inconsistent use of language when covering the LGBTQ community is disconcerting and sends mixed messages to readers who rely on the region’s largest media publication for solid information.
2. Erasing the transgender community creates an artificial divide suggesting that some queer people are acceptable (aka white gay men and lesbians with some money) if they leave the others behind. It is one thing to use “gay” in a headline, but quite another to scrub the trans community from actual legislation as the editorial board did with HB 300. My antenna is up on this particular angle because it is also part of a “compromise” approach from some moderate conservatives. No, no, no. Unacceptable.
3. Gender identity and gender expression are actual reasons youth are homeless (adults, too.) This is a salient factor. It is also significant when discussing available resources – only one shelter accepts trans women. So already constrained resources are further inaccessible to individuals who are trans or genderqueer. This is very much part of the story. Maybe you can’t include that in a 700 word article, but you can use appropriate language to reflect that reality.
4. Sexual preference suggests a choice. Some 15 year olds choose to have sex, prefer to have sex even if their parents forbid them. They end up homeless. This is different from ejecting a 13-year-old who identifies as gay or trans. Both are terrible things to do to your kid. But being queer, being LGBTQ is not a preference. That’s a mindset that keeps shelters closed to LGBTQ folks, limits employment options, creates unsafe schools and so forth. Plus, it is simply wrong – it is inaccurate and biased language in a straight news story.
5. The Post-Gazette refuses to adopt a LGBTQ style guide or media reference guide such as this one from GLAAD. The Washington Post and The New York Times have LGBTQ style guides. I’ve sent the GLAAD guide to the PG many, many times. In fairness, no local media outlet except the Pittsburgh City Paper has adopted a LGBTQ style guide.
Neiderberger’s article was actually about the City and County pledging to tackle homelessness among youth. This makes it more imperative than ever that we demand fairness and accuracy from the media – to ensure that these efforts are culturally competent for the entire LGBTQ community.
This week, our community will gather to commemorate the Trans Day of Remembrance, memorializing more than 70 trans individuals who have lost their lives due to anti-trans violence and hate. If there is any week for us to have that conversation, this it is.
My personal opinion is that we should push the paper to adopt a style guide. I’m beginning to think this is key to forward progress – a rallying point to push back against whomever at the Post-Gazette thinks careening down this path of bad information and anti-LGBTQ bias is valid. How long should we wait – until the next “positive” article? No, we’ve been waiting forever and they simply are not showing interest in redressing this matter.
What do you think – should we launch a petition and ask for a meeting?
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