What the Daily Telegraph got (kind of) right about LGBTI youth and health

It is an unfortunate reality that being an LGBTI young person in this country is a risk factor for poorer mental health.

These statistics shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, but I’ll recite them again, for those who haven’t been listening. The lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, intersex and queer kids living across Australia today are five times more likely to attempt suicide than straight kids.

More than 57 per cent of transgender and gender-diverse adults have been diagnosed with depression during their lifetime. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people aged 16 and over are 3.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety during their lives.

Yeah. It can be tough being an LGBTI young person. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the perception of sexuality and gender diversity that is STILL being perpetuated by the media.

This week, The Daily Telegraph has been (rightly) met with anger over a headline and infographic that announced young Australians have “themselves to blame” for a youth health crisis, depicting a raft of apparently self-inflicted factors including drug and alcohol use, psychological distress and … being same-sex attracted.

Large media companies have laid off vast numbers of sub-editors in recent times, and the Tele has since apologised for this apparent balls-up on its Facebook page, citing an “accident”.

The conflation between poor health choices and same-sex attraction is inflammatory, damaging and wrong. To suggest LGBTI people are to blame for the poor mental health outcomes associated with their identities is downright irresponsible.

That said, if asked about the mental and emotional wellbeing of same-sex attracted kids, I’d have to agree with this ridiculous infographic – though certainly not the way it was presented. The suggestion that being same-sex attracted impacts negatively on people’s health is worth interrogating.

Let me assure you that stigma and prejudice are very real. These are not things of the past – many of us are confronted with them every day.

Newsflash. This is not a choice we make. It’s in our genetic makeup. It runs deep in our blood. Being same-sex attracted is as much a choice as being born with brown hair – the key difference is that unlike with our hair colour, for most of us no-one else in our family will share this part of our identity.

That means that in the years before we confide in our families (and for some of us, that will be our entire lives), we might look for support, information and guidance from the media and the internet. Where else would we go?

Those relatively poor mental health outcomes experienced by LGBTI youth are not self-inflicted. They exist because of media representation like this, which irresponsibly perpetuates stigma and discrimination.

To write off the coupling of words like “blame” with stats about LGBTI kids as “an accident” is offensive and misleading. This is not a typo, or a missing piece of punctuation – it’s an ideological issue that reflects the most recklessly conservative views in our society.

This sort of misrepresentation acts in direct opposition to the progress that would allow LGBTI kids to match their straight counterparts in mental health outcomes and emotional wellbeing.

Media creators have a critical and solemn responsibility to report on issues of identity and marginalisation in a way that nurtures and supports people, rather than alienating and denigrating them.

The perpetuation of the myth that sexuality is a choice is damaging and dangerous. Critiquing same-sex attraction as a health issue is inflammatory, incorrect, foul and offensive, and this kind of reporting has severe negative repercussions.  

To me, this is a very alarming example of the failure of some media outlets to meet their responsibility for responsible reporting.

On the flip side, when the media does produce sensitive, respectful and celebratory content on diversity and identity, the positive outcomes are far-reaching. As publisher of Archer Magazine, I often receive emails from young people saying our platform was their first experience seeing their identities reflected in the media.

Their tone is relief, more than anything, and this isn’t surprising. That a person can go 15 or 18 years without seeing their sexual or gender identity reflected back at them in a positive light is a frightening prospect.

For social progress to take place, the media makers and content creators must be bastions of change, and there are no excuses. Guidelines are available on how to report on issues around sexuality and gender, and how to use inclusive language. There are many examples of media doing it well.

For some outlets, respectful reporting may require a culture shift, and perhaps an extra few minutes spent editing and reflecting on relevant pieces of content. The results will be unimaginably positive.

Irresponsible reporting is the kind of obstacle that shuts out the potential for change. An example set by the media is the real way forward. And, luckily for journalists, it’s actually very easy.

❏ Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636.

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