Elevating LGBTQ Voices and Coverage: A Q&A with #ASJA2019 Conference Speaker Adam Pawlus

Carolyn Crist (@cristcarolyn on Twitter) is a health and medical journalist based in Georgia whose stories have appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Magazine, Reuters, U.S. News & World Report and Wired. Her forthcoming book, The New Science of Narcissism, will come out in fall 2020. Along with co-chairing #ASJA2019, Carolyn also co-chaired the 2018 conference.

As executive director of NLGJA, the Association of LGBTQ Journalists, Adam Pawlus has been forward-focused on fostering fair and accurate coverage of issues in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. As part of this, the group works to counteract workplace bias and provide professional development to members.

NLGJA also offers resources for all journalists, including a Rapid Response Task Force of working journalists from mainstream and LGBTQ media that addresses unfair or inaccurate reporting, as well as appropriate terminology. The group highlights exemplary coverage of the LGBTQ community through its annual Excellence in Journalism Awards and offers resources for reporting.

What can journalists and book authors do to better cover LGBTQ issues this year?

Adam Pawlus: Journalists and authors should be vigilant and mindful of how they’re telling and interpreting our stories. LGBTQ people are living exciting lives with diverse experiences and points of view. It is so easy to fall into stereotypes, unknowingly use outdated or disrespectful language or perpetuate cliché stories. The LGBTQ community is far from monolithic and the same diversity seen throughout our country can be seen within our community. This intersectionality adds to the depth of LGBTQ stories and coverage. Whether it’s immigration or border issues, healthcare or income disparities, the headlines of today impact the LGBTQ community, often with an added layer of complexity.

The language used to describe the LGBTQ community has evolved in recent years, and as writers it’s critical to stay up-to-date on those changes. To help guide reporters and writers as they work, NLGJA has a Stylebook on LGBTQ Terminology. We’re also always happy to answer questions.

How can we also boost our sourcing to include LGBTQ voices?

AP: LGBTQ people represent every race, religion, career, nationality and so on. As a community, we bring additional unique points of view to each of those identifiers. Journalists, authors and storytellers can boost sourcing by actively seeking out those perspectives and engaging LGBTQ people in reporting. In fact, their work will be better and more encompassing for it.

What are the top priorities for NLGJA this year?

AP: NLGJA is currently undergoing a strategic planning process. Two of NLGJA’s top priorities are to improve the quality of tools that we offer to early career journalists and also to better ensure that our membership accurately reflects the diversity in newsrooms. Additionally, we are hoping to reach more journalists and authors outside of the LGBTQ community, so the opportunity to present to ASJA members and supporters is greatly appreciated.

The vast majority of journalists are working hard to cover the LGBTQ community fairly and accurately. The progress can be seen from small towns to big cities across the nation. There is still work to be done, especially when covering transgender and non-binary people, but in our experience, journalists, authors and editors are often open to correcting misused language. They may just lack the knowledge of what appropriate coverage looks like. NLGJA is trying to fill that knowledge gap.

Pawlus will talk about LGBTQ media coverage, issues and opportunities as part of the Freelance State of the Union at the 48th annual ASJA conference. He is scheduled to speak during the Sunday, May 5, keynote at 8:30 a.m. Register now to hear Pawlus and others speak about the future of freelance writing and attend other highly-anticipated conference sessions.