October is Africa Pride Month, a time to celebrate the progress that Queer communities have made within the continent, and a time to reflect and discuss how Queer stories are narrated in mainstream media.
To commemorate Africa Pride Month, fraycollege hosted a #JournalismTalks Twitter space titled: Are Queer stories visible enough in the media.
The space was hosted by Tamsin Jacobs-Wort, manager of non-accredited programmes at fraycollege. She was joined by Nigerian activist, Matthew Blaise, award-winning journalist at the SABC, Reginald Witbooi, Zambian Queer rights activist, Natasha Ivy, senior journalist, Selloane Khalane, and acting co-director for Iranti, Nolwazi Tusini.
Jacobs-Wort opened the conversation by asking, how are LGBTQIA+ stories portrayed in the mainstream media?
Blaise offered a Nigerian perspective, pointing out that these stories are non-existent in the media. “It is a conversation that is frowned upon due to socio-cultural reasons,” he said. He highlighted that in African countries, where Queer people are criminalised, we see a negative image of Queer people. “This is largely due to very homophobic and transphobic legislation, like here in Nigeria there are nine legislations that criminalises LGBTQ people”.
Witbooi pointed out that as journalists, it is important they change how they report on the community. “We really need to upskill ourselves when it comes to LGBTQIA+ stories,” he said. “It’s important to highlight that covering these stories goes above and beyond the horrific stories that we cover, we often think that leading with horrific stories like murder and rape will always sell the news to our listeners, readers, and viewers – but it’s not only about those stories, there are good stories,” he said adding that while there is an improvement in how queer stories are reported, the change is happening at a snail’s pace.
Jacobs-Wort pointed out that most of the time, Queer stories are blanketed and categorised to Pride Month or marches when they are pitched in newsrooms – even when there is more to report on.
“One of the things that come up quite often for us is that we are not just Queer people who exist in this community, we are not just marginalised. We get married, we have children, we are academics, we travel across countries and make a difference and those stories need to be documented as well.”
Ivy said that when it comes to how stories about the Queer community are covered, there are different contexts that Queer people exist in, and some countries are quite friendly or accepting of the conversation around LGBT persons which would influence how stories of joy are covered in the media.
There are more internal conversations to be had, like visibility, she said. “We have people who are comfortable with being seen and people who are not comfortable with being seen and that’s a spectrum which gives us an opportunity to interrogate further in terms of what kind of environment are we creating for LGBTQIA+ persons.”
Khalane added that as the media, we really have a long way to go when it comes to covering the Queer community with sensitivity and accuracy. “Most of us are guilty of not being sensitive to pronouns, and guilty of misgendering Queer people, and sometimes it’s contributed by blatant ignorance,” she said.
“The fight right now is how do you sell a story about the Queer community to your editor and make sure that it’s a happy story because I believe that people are so exhausted from negativity, they want joyful stories and stories that represent them as well.”
Tusini said: “The problem begins when the Queer community is treated as though it sits outside the greater South African society, and our stories matter on pride month only,” Adding that “there are very few journalists in places like Iranti who take Queer stories seriously enough to lead with them, seriously enough to follow them, and don’t call us two hours before their deadline which happens often.”
Blaise concluded the conversation by pointing out that authenticity is crucial when it comes to Queer stories. “There is a need for Queer people to tell their stories themselves,” he said.
“Telling stories with accuracy and sensitivity, making sure you have researched your stories, and telling stories that will instigate change and inspire pride within the community is my objective,” added Khalane.
The full conversation is available here