Every June, LGBTQ+ communities around the world unite to celebrate Pride Month. Pride pays tribute to those involved in the Stonewall Riots of 28th June 1969 and plays a crucial role in the journey to achieving equal rights for queer people.
Between the rainbow flags, parades, festivals and demonstrations, Pride recognises the impact that LGBTQ+ individuals have made on society. But it also draws attention to the hate crimes and discrimination that remain a disturbing reality for many members of the community.
While parts of the world have taken progressive strides towards equality, this shouldn’t be mistaken for global progress. According to Equaldex, there are over 70 countries with homophobic laws which means identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer is a danger in itself.
At Relative Insight, our world revolves around language and linguistics. We wanted to explore how the language of news coverage around the LGBTQ+ community differs across some of the most progressive and oppressive countries for queer people.
To do this, we relied on a robust study into LGBTQ+ rights by journalists Lyric and Asher Fergusson. Consisting of 250+ hours of research, they created a definitive “LGBTQ+ Travel Safety Index” highlighting the safest and least safe countries for LGBTQ+ people. Safe countries included the likes of Sweden, Canada and the Netherlands. Whereas unsafe countries included Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.
We collected a sample of news articles discussing LGBTQ+ matters from the top 10 and bottom 10 countries on the index. Using Relative Insight’s text analysis software, we compared the two sets of language data, pinpointing the statistically significant differences in topics, words, grammar and phrases between them.
LGBTQ news: Low-ranking countries
Acceptance of LGBTQ+ people is growing globally, particularly in regions with more developed economies. But in countries deemed unsafe for LGBTQ+ communities, homosexuality and gender expression are heavily criminalised and many pro-LGBTQ+ organisations are banned.
Media coverage in low-ranking countries is 10.3x more likely to talk about LGBTQ+ topics in relation to law and order. The phrase Islamic laws appear infinitely more, showing how religion often serves to marginalise queer communities across the world.
Criminalisation of LGBTQ+ people
Journalism clearly depicts LGBTQ+ rights as a legal issue and not a human one. It’s seen as a crime to identify as anything other than heterosexual and cisgender. This is reinforced by the fact that articles are infinitely more likely to include words such as punishment, imprisonment and death penalty highlighting the severe risk of living in these communities as an LGBTQ+ individual.
Violence and discrimination
Moreover, we found that journalists from low-ranking countries reported on gender-based violence, attacks and abuse towards members of the LGBTQ+ community. News articles illustrate the precarious situations of these countries, and how discrimination is rife towards queer people.
A key linguistic difference surfaced by the analysis was that writers from low-ranking countries are 3.3x more likely to talk in the third person. This practice distances the author from the story, as well as the reader from the subject. By adopting this writing technique, there is a lack of empathy and a detachment to the LGBTQ+ cause.
These findings align with common perceptions of LGBTQ+ rights in the developing world, and demonstrate how media outlets are instrumental in supporting continued oppression and influencing public opinion.
LGBTQ news: High-ranking countries
Activism and Pride celebrations
The tone of voice in the LGBTQ+ news coverage of high-ranking countries stands in stark contrast. The word safe appears infinitely more in this data set, showing how these countries strive to create a safer environment for LGBTQ+ communities to live freely.
We observed that high-ranking countries were those that celebrate Pride and are 33.3x more likely to discuss Pride festivities in the media. In addition to this, the word activism appears infinitely more, signifying the pursuit of true equality for LGBTQ+ communities continues throughout these regions.
Freedom to love
Writers in progressive countries note that people should be allowed to love whomever they choose. LGBTQ+ individuals, same-sex relationships and different gender identifications are increasingly acknowledged, accepted and celebrated rather than being demonised in the media. This is highlighted through the words like freedom and love, which are 10.6x more likely to appear.
News outlets in high-ranking countries give voice to the LGBTQ+ community and provide a platform for individuals to share their experiences. Articles are 4.5x more likely to include first and second-person pronouns, with the narrative being told from the perspective of queer people. The increased usage of personal pronouns such as I, we and our brings a human element to news coverage, rather than subjective, and creates an inclusive, accepting tone.
Why is this analysis important?
The news helps to construct people’s opinions on issues that they have low personal familiarity with. However, the current state of the media coverage in low-ranking countries largely serves to propagate this view of LGBTQ+ people as criminals. A falsehood that hinders acceptance and progress. In contrast, progressive countries have published articles that are inclusive, demonstrate the importance of embracing diversity and amplify LGBTQ+ voices.
But what’s important to note is that public opinion is constantly evolving. Previously, we analysed news coverage of the AIDS epidemic over 50 years and found that the conversation in the western world has changed drastically. Despite all the progress made in recent years, we still need to keep fighting to ensure that LGBTQ+ identities are not belittled, abused or demonised. Pride Month is more than just putting a rainbow on your company logo. We should celebrate this month, but let’s also use it as a reminder to continue the work that needs to be done.