Queer teens, LGBT issues and mediation

Two emails I received this week with quite different takes on the media images of LGBT public. First, the abstract of a paper by Jeffrey A. Bennett in Critical Studies in Media Communication 27(5): 455-476. Queer Teenagers and the Mediation of Utopian Catastrophe.

Recent cover stories about queer teenagers mark a noticeable shift in the discourse surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) publics. Contemporary media reports have repositioned the multifarious identities of queer teens as sites of unease for contemporary queer politics. Employing a framework that emphasizes the dialogical relationship among the tropes of utopia and apocalypse to scrutinize media coverage, this analysis explores the anxieties and possibilities generated by queer teens. Young queers are simultaneously understood as both political separatists from earlier movements, as well as disinterested assimilationists. The thematics of sexual fluidity and neoliberal individualism are highlights of this discourse, each being carefully tempered by the cultural force of assimilation.

Second, a more number-crunching style of analysis by Media Tenor.

LGBT Image Tied to DADT, Marriage

US TV coverage stays focused on two central topics

New York, January 21, 2010. Social policy issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are arguably some of the most controversial in the US. Two main topics, same-sex marriage rights and the US military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy, have largely defined the media coverage related to LGBT themes since 2004.

In fact, Media Tenor’s data show that US TV coverage of LGBT themes is dominated by these two issues. While occasional coverage has been offered on other LGBT topics since 2004 – including teen suicide related to anti-LGBT bullying, the passage of LGBT-inclusive hate crimes legislation, LGBT-focused protests by extremist religious groups, and high-profile celebrities in the LGBT community – LGBT issues as presented to the TV audience have boiled down to love and war.

Media Tenor has found that spikes in US TV coverage on LGBT themes since 2004 correspond to specific advocacy, judicial and legislative events on related issues. The high volume of coverage in the first quarter of 2004, for example, was the result first of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court informing the state senate that civil unions were an inadequate alternative to marriage for same-sex couples in the state. This resulted not just in a path to legalized same-sex marriage in the state (which would begin later that year in May), but in San Francisco city and county officials issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Over a four day period adjacent to Valentine’s Day, thousands of marriage licenses were issued, an event which received significant media coverage and began the legal wrangling over same-sex marriage in California, despite the fact that the San Francisco licenses were later ruled invalid. That legal wrangling continues to this day in the form of appeals cases regarding Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages in the state after a period, not directly connected to the San Francisco licenses, of legalization.

Other increases in coverage volume reflect similarly dramatic events, although none made quite as compelling a visual story – a key element in television news selection – as the San Francisco licenses. In the second quarter of 2008, coverage spiked again in response to two critical court cases: one which struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriages (which then became in available in June of that year, until they were disallowed by the vote on Proposition 8) and another in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that declared DADT unconstitutional in a case brought against the US Air Force. Finally, the last half of 2010 saw significant coverage on LGBT topics as increased pressure from advocacy groups and Congressional debate about DADT, which was ultimately repealed during the lame-duck session, came i nto focus. There were also several lower-profile state-level legislative and judicial events related to same-sex marriage rights during this time.The Southern Poverty Law Center, a US NGO dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry through monitoring activities, legal advocacy and education, in its most recent Intelligence Report (Winter 2010) focused on LGBT people as the minority most likely to be targeted by hate crimes based on a 14-year analysis of federal hate crimes data. However, other statistics related to LGBT people have been more positive, including a Roper poll conducted in August 2010 that found, for the first time, that a majority of those polled feel the federal government should recognize same-sex marriages (52% compared to 46% in 2009). Media Tenor data show these attitudinal disagreements on LGBT-related legal rights reflected in the US TV coverage, which tends to showcase both those celebrating advances in LGBT rights and as well as those in oppositi on, generally due to concerns about “family values” or military readiness – positions generally associated with conservative politics in the US.

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