The media often exploit modern readers’ short attention span by using eye-popping headlines that fail to represent the context of the story. Sadly, this practice seems to be growing in popularity throughout LGBT media and advocacy groups. One of the major consequences of this exploitation is emotionally manipulating and even entirely misleading LGBT people who rely on these sources.
Here is a closer look at the accuracy of several summer LGBT headlines to illustrate what is a constant trend.
“New GOP bill would ban flying of Pride flag at U.S. embassies” —Washington Blade
This article begins by asserting “A Republican lawmaker in the U.S. House has introduced legislation that appears to be aimed at barring U.S. embassies from flying the Pride flag in recognition of the LGBT community.”
Only further into the article does the author clarify that the lawmaker introduced the bill to “prohibit the flying of any flag other than the United States flag over United States diplomatic and consular posts, and for other purposes.”
Even though the article quotes the American Civil Liberties Union admitting that they do not believe the rainbow flag is specifically targeted, they continue on to assert that they are certain a desire to prohibit the rainbow flag is the motivation behind the “ridiculous” new law.
In truth, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), the bill’s sponsor, defended the bill by arguing, “the United States flag is the single greatest symbol of freedom the world has ever known, and there’s no reason for anything but Old Glory to be flying over our embassies and posts around the globe.” No anti-LGBT motivation appears to be involved.
“Teen Excels High School Despite Being Kicked Out by Parents After Learning He was Gay” — Attitude UK
Seth Owen is an 18-year-old high school co-valedictorian who recently became an LGBT symbol of resistance to bigotry and a symbol of hope for young people seeking to escape their unaccepting families.
The story, however, is not as straightforward as the headline would have readers believe.
Owen was 15 years old when his father discovered images on Owen’s phone that strongly indicated the young man was gay. After confronting Owen about the images, his parents sent him to a counselor, an action that Owen believed was intended to “make” him straight. The counseling sessions didn’t last long, and Owen continued living with his parents for several years while attending school, holding down part-time jobs, and participating in many extracurricular activities.
When he was 18 years old, Owen and his father got into a dispute over the family policy of attending church. Owen disapproved of the conservative views his parents’ Baptist church expressed, and no longer wished to attend. His father told Owen either he would attend church with everyone in the family or need to move out. Owen chose the latter, moving in with friends.
“Woman breaks into gay man’s home, forces him to watch her perform sex act as ‘example’ of how to ‘behave’” — Queerty
While this article initially appears to be a report about a homophobic couple attempting to shame a gay man in a disturbing manner, the actual story is far more serious.
The incident occurred in New Zealand in 2016 when a woman, Laura Jean Landon, along with two unnamed men, used the app Grindr to convince a gay man to meet them, under the false impression he would be hooking up with another gay man.
The three rang his doorbell and immediately began threatening him with a bat and a gun. They shouted homophobic slurs, broke his belongings, and engaged in sexual acts in front of him. They also sexually assaulted the victim, forcing him to perform oral sex on both male attackers. The attackers then ransacked his home and stole his credit cards, cash, jewelry, even his car.
Landon was sentenced to four and half years in prison for participating in the assault. The other two assailants were not mentioned.
Strangely, rather than emphasizing the seriousness of this violent crime , the publication chose the far more ridiculous angle of headlining a single homophobic act fitting a narrative of ignorance and bigotry.
“DOJ touts anti-LGBT views, task force at ‘religious freedom’ summit” — Washington Blade
On July 30, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of the Religious Liberty Task Force, designed to protect the religious freedom of all Americans.
The article in question, however, failed to indicate how the DOJ had ”touted” anti-LGBT views. Instead, it merely mentions one example Sessions listed in reference to the Supreme Courtruling on the Masterpiece Cake Shop. The majority of the article goes on to speculate that the message behind the speech is one of unhindered anti-LGBT discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.
However, Sessions’ actual statement describing the new task force reads, “the Task Force will help the Department fully implement our religious liberty guidance by ensuring that all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations. That includes making sure that our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.” No LGBT content was mentioned, and certainly nothing that could be described as advocating “anti-LGBT views.”
“The Religious Right Appears Intent On Criminalizing Gay Sex Again” — Huffington Post
Written by Michelangelo Signorile, editor-at-large of Huffington Post’s “Queer Voices,” this piece largely consists of speculation that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court would not only lead to the end of same-sex marriage, it also would allow states to once again ban sodomy.
Signorile made a similar prediction following Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the high court. The core of his argument is based on comments by several Christian conservative leaders, some more than a decade old, regarding the nature of homosexuality and the influence of legally recognizing homosexual behaviors.
Signorile concludes that, because many Christian conservative leaders have influence over this administration, support constitutional originalism, and have historically disapproved of efforts to legalize same-sex marriage or decriminalize sodomy, gay Americans’ sexual freedom is directly at risk.
Signorile asserts, “None of us should believe that even the legality of gay sex, like abortion, can’t be thrown back to the states ― many of which, in the political grip of hard-line religious conservatives, would ban it in a heartbeat.”
In truth, no one today is even hinting at such an agenda, which appears to be purely the work of the author’s paranoia and imagination.
“The State Department is retroactively revoking passports for trans citizens” — LGBTQ Nation
This particular story is notable because, within a day or so of publication, the title of the article was changed to read “Advocates say fears about trans people’s passports are overblown.” Nevertheless, the original tweet and URL still reflected the above initial headline.
The basis of this accusation involves two transgender women who claimed to their passport renewals were denied because of their gender identity.
In the first case, Gender Justice League Executive Director Danni Askini argued that efforts to renew a 10-year passport failed due to the U.S. government’s request for proof of citizenship documents and evidence of transition. Askini tweeted, “Today I was denied a renewal of my US Passport and told I would need to get a judge to unseal child welfare records from Foster care in order to ‘prove’ my US Citizenship. Despite having had all ‘Female’ ID since 1999, they are now demanding ‘Proof of Transition’ for the 1st time.”
Claiming to be seeking asylum in either Sweden or Canada, due to fear arising from the anti-trans violence in Seattle, Washington, as well as persecution from the U.S. government on account of efforts on behalf of gender advocacy, Askini determined the passport issue was intentional discrimination.
More likely the problem is that, to obtain a 10-year passport, one must provide all documentation, including an original birth certificate and, as Askini underwent the effort of legal gender change, medical documentation of any procedures would be required.
The second example is similar to the first. Janus Rose received a phone call noting a gender marker error noted by the passport processing center. Rose was told that the medical documentation supplied was insufficient to back up a change on a passport gender marker.
The National Center for Transgender Equality later clarified, “All of the incidents we have seen involved unusual circumstances and bureaucratic mistakes by the passport agency and have caused very unfortunate hardship and anxiety for our community members. Please note, the longstanding passport gender marker policy has not changed.”
The Need for Honest Reporting
As always, when dealing with people who believe they are routinely targeted for violence, hatred, and even government oppression, accuracy is extremely important. LGBT people deserve honest reporting, not exaggerated narratives designed to inspire fear, resentment, and anger.
Many gay people may never read beyond a headline that simply confirm their fears and prejudices. This can lead to political and social activism that simply do not reflect truth. A political movement should not have to rely on emotional outrage from truly fake news to be successful.