Covering Coronavirus: Tips, best practices and programs

Pride during the pandemic: Improving LGBTQ coverage with every story

Elliott Kozuch is press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign

The COVID-19 pandemic has curbed traditional large-scale Pride celebrations like parades and festivals across the country. 

But coverage of LGBTQ issues and identities in all communities can and should extend beyond the month of June, says Elliott Kozuch, press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. Pride month started Monday. 

“Pride is rooted in protest and resilience — it is a time for LGBTQ people to celebrate our community, even though we still face discrimination in nearly every facet of life,” Kozuch wrote in an email interview. “This is a time to tell these stories and share the power of LGBTQ people to build community even in the hardest of times.”

“It is also a time to celebrate the diversity of the LGBTQ experience. … Telling the story of one LGBTQ person doesn’t mean you can’t tell more stories and explore other angles.”

HRC’s COVID-19 resources outline the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on LGBTQ communities. What are other pressing story angles in this pandemic that you feel haven’t yet been explored?

Kozuch: One thing we are seeing is how people who hold multiple marginalized identities, such as being both LGBTQ and a person of color, further impacts the negative economic effects of COVID-19. LGBTQ elders in long-term care facilities are disproportionately impacted, as well as LGBTQ people who are incarcerated. 

Additionally, there are many angles around how people are still coming together virtually and otherwise during a time when in-person communication is diminished. LGBTQ advocates around the globe are shifting their work online as they navigate COVID-19 — coming up with innovative ways to continue to build the community and connections we all need, and more so during a time of crisis. This is an angle of resilience and a message any reader can benefit from — even in these uncertain times, our communities find a way forward.

Access to testing for the virus and the pandemic’s impact on the overburdened healthcare system have dominated attention for the last several months. How has the focus on the pandemic and those critical health services affected access to other health needs LGBTQ communities have? 

Kozuch: As part of their response to the pandemic, hospital systems across the country have postponed non-emergency surgeries and procedures in order to prioritize care for COVID-19 patients. This includes many gender-affirming procedures, which are now unfortunately on hold.

These procedures are essential to the long-term well-being to many transgender and non-binary people. But while these procedures have currently been classified as non-urgent, that does not mean they are non-essential. While our country continues to fight COVID-19 and protect public health, many Americans, LGBTQ and not, may have important medical procedures postponed — and this can be incredibly distressing and harmful to their mental health. 

Additionally, the mental health impacts of this pandemic cannot be understated, and data shows us that LGBTQ people are already disproportionately impacted by anxiety, depression and even suicidality — especially those who are transgender or bisexual. And to be clear — mental health disparities for LGBTQ people have nothing to do with being LGBTQ and everything to do with how society treats the community.

The HRC has shared data on the dangers that LGBTQ individuals in unsupportive domestic environments could face during stay-at-home orders. How can journalists uncover these stories in their local communities without causing further potential harm? 

Kozuch: People who may be experiencing unsafe home environments may not be comfortable sharing information publicly that could put them in danger. However, utilizing resources like data, advocates working to end this violence — from both a direct services perspective and from a policy or cultural change level — as well as speaking to survivors who have first-hand experiences are ways of highlighting these stories in a safe way. 

If you are able to speak directly with someone who is in an unsafe environment, and they are comfortable speaking publicly, please respect and keep in mind their boundaries. Some may not be comfortable revealing their name or location, some may request that you use a pseudonym in order to protect their identity. Please be respectful of these requests — and of course, please always be certain to use the correct pronouns for anyone you’re interviewing. If you’re not sure, ask!

It should also be a priority to share local resources for those who may be experiencing unsafe home environments — by doing so, you just may save a life. 

How can journalists and news organizations establish or strengthen relationships with both LGBTQ advocacy agencies and LGBTQ individuals who can help personalize these larger issues?

Kozuch: As with any relationship you hold as a journalist, it is something you must cultivate. Depending on your beat, you can reach out to a local LGBTQ center, a national expert in LGBTQ law or a beloved LGBTQ figure in media, industry, faith or any walk of life.

Maintaining these relationships can open you up to new story ideas, new sources and new information that can enrich your reporting — even if the story is not explicitly about LGBTQ identity. 

How can a journalist get over the fear of getting it wrong during an interview — using the wrong pronoun or an outdated phrase, for example — and possibly hurting or insulting a source? 

Kozuch: Journalists may often make a mistake when referring to a person during an interview, such as mispronouncing their name, referring to someone as “Mrs.” instead of “Dr.,” and a whole host of other small mistakes that are natural in any interaction between people. Just as you would in these instances, if you make a mistake about someone’s pronouns or use an out-of-date term, there is no shame in apologizing, correcting yourself and moving on.

June is Pride month, typically used as a time peg for stories about LGBTQ communities. How can journalists use this moment to tell deep stories about these communities? 

Kozuch: Pride is rooted in protest and resilience — it is a time for LGBTQ people to celebrate our community, even though we still face discrimination in nearly every facet of life. This year, that celebration will look very different from typical activities such as parades, festivals and other large gatherings. However, LGBTQ people are finding never-before-seen ways to build community and honor Pride month. This is a time to tell these stories and share the power of LGBTQ people to build community even in the hardest of times.

It is also a time to celebrate the diversity of the LGBTQ experience — LGBTQ people have experiences, stories and identities that span a wide spectrum. Telling the story of one LGBTQ person doesn’t mean you can’t tell more stories and explore other angles.

Gender and sexuality are such an important part of one’s identity. How can journalists practice more inclusive language in their writing and reporting of any story? 

Kozuch: There are many resources out there to help journalists learn how to best report on LGBTQ people. HRC offers many guides, including a glossary and guides on language around transgender and non-binary folks, bisexual folks and those living with HIV.

However, when in doubt, the AP style guide shares how to talk about LGBTQ identities and updates this guide regularly. Whether or not your newsroom uses AP style, this is a quickly-accessible, trusted resource to ensure you are reporting accurately and responsibly. 

LGBTQ communities are complex and evolving. How can journalists continue to educate themselves on issues of importance? 

Kozuch: The beauty of the LGBTQ community is that we live in every community, culture and demographic. Staying connected to the LGBTQ community in your area, or LGBTQ people who work and live in the spaces where you report, is a way to build meaningful relationships, stay on top of what LGBTQ people are thinking about and to see angles that intersect your beat and the community.