The folks at GLAAD have commissioned a report, conducted by the University of Missouri Center on Religion & the Professions, to examine the kinds of media messages on LGBT issues, especially when it comes to religious voices.
The report finds that when religious voices are used in discussing LGBT issues, they are mostly voices opposed to LGBT rights. In addition, the study finds that the media turns to Evangelical and Catholic voices in disproportionate numbers.
the overwhelming majority of sources with some religious identiﬁcation were communicated by people afﬁliated with faith groups that have formal church policy, religious decrees or traditions opposing the rights of LGBT people. That’s true for most Evangelicals, such as Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics. It’s also true of Orthodox Christians, many historically Black denominations, and Muslims. Although exceptions can be found in these faith traditions and in fact pro-LGBT religious ministries exist within, for example, the Roman Catholic Church, the preponderance of sources afﬁliated with religious groups that oppose LGBT equality total three-quarters of all religious-afﬁliated messages.
The report finds that almost 34 percent of all religiously-identified speakers were Evangelicals and 29 percent were Catholics, even though Evangelicals are only 26 percent of the population and Catholics are only 26 percent. The data also finds that Mainline Protestants were slightly underrepresented, but members of traditionally Black churches were also overrepresented.
Other details of the report, according to GLAAD, include:
- half of all religiously-identified organizations quoted on LGBT issues were Evangelical, with a heavy reliance on the National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family.
- Evangelicals and Catholics were quoted opposing LGBT issues, while Mainline Protestants and members of Black churches were more likely to be positive. Despite polling that Catholics have strong support of LGBT equality issues, Catholics who were quoted in the press were more likely to be opposed to those rights.
- Religious voices dominated the quotes that were opposed to LGBT rights while supporters of LGBT rights and LGBT people were rarely identified as religious.
The report (and GLAAD) makes two major recommendations for journalists:
Mainstream media must make more consistent use of LGBT-affirming religious sources, instead of turning to more negative or non-affirming religious voices. By overlooking LGBT-affirming sources, journalists can contribute to – and even perpetuate – the idea that those who are religious are, by definition, opposed to LGBT equality. In looking specifically at the organizations represented among religious commentators, we find a common profile: culturally conservative entities seeking to influence the political debate, with overt reference to “Christian” or “biblical” values, and often with the explicit endorsement of currently serving political figures.
The media must be fair and accurate in how religious voices are represented. Disproportionately favoring the voices of Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics – who are more likely to present negative messages about LGBT people – is neither fair, nor accurate, nor balanced coverage. The mainstream media must pull apart the assumptions about values, religiosity, sexuality, and the intersection of church and state underlying these voices and their influential presence in the news. Despite their under representation, there are LGBT-affirming religious voices cited in the mainstream media, some of whom even identify as LGBT themselves. Many of these voices come from affirming religious groups with a significant presence in the United States.
You should definitely check out the report and GLAAD’s analysis. I found a few things rather confusing about how the coding took place, but it’s an interesting report. We’ve talked before about the need for more diverse voices when talking about LGBT issues, and this is especially true of religious voices. The over-reliance on Evangelicals and Catholics is a problem because they distort the religious debate. Evangelicals, especially, have become adept at using the media in their efforts on LGBT issues and the Catholic hierarchy is always quick with a press response.
But journalists can’t just rely on people with good media machines and outreach. That’s why it is important to reach voices, especially religious ones, who don’t churn out press statements and make their spokespeople available at the drop of a hat.