The power of the media in advancing LGBTQ+ rights

by Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 28 June 2023 16:20 GMT

Trainees including journalists and CSO representatives who attended the "Effective Communications on Young Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights” training course in Nairobi, Kenya, June 2023.

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The media plays a crucial role in raising awareness of LGBTQ+ rights around the world. This piece showcases an example of the Foundation’s media development work, which aims to bolster the media ecosystem by enhancing the coverage of critical and under reported issues and reduce the spread of mis and disinformation.

The media plays a crucial role in raising awareness of LGBTQ+ rights around the world. With the growing visibility of LGBTQ+ people in some Western countries across the press, film, TV, radio and other media platforms, more opportunities are created to highlight the global progress made on advancing LGBTQ+ rights. This visibility also impacts perceptions of LGBTQ+ people and can foster greater understanding of the issues they face. However, gains won for LGBTQ+ rights remain at risk of being dismantled, with the enactment of an anti-gay law in Uganda and opposition to same-sex parents in Italy being just two recent examples.

Protecting and advancing human rights is a core focus of the Foundation’s mission to strengthen free, fair and informed societies, and supporting and upholding the rights of marginalised communities such as LGBTQ+ people - who are often subjected to harmful narratives and misinformation - is fundamental to achieving this. This piece showcases an example of the Foundation’s media development work, which aims to bolster the media ecosystem by enhancing the coverage of critical and under reported issues and reduce the spread of mis and disinformation.

This June, in Nairobi, Kenya, the Foundation delivered two training courses, “Effective Communications on Young Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights” for civil society representatives and “Reporting on Young Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights” for journalists in partnership with the HIVOS We Lead initiative. Over three days, expert trainers covered issues such media ethics, misinformation and LGBTQ+ rights, and by doing so, fostered understanding and partnerships between the two cohorts. 

Meet the trainees

In the interviews below we hear from three participants who undertook these courses. Their compelling feedback underscores the importance of enhancing the knowledge and expertise of local communities to support LGBTQ+ people.  

Doris Kathia, Freelance journalist

Doris Kathia, Freelance journalist, writer, communications specialist, and SRHR advocate

Prior to undertaking this training, had you reported on LGBTQ+ issues, and what motivated you to undertake this course?

Yes, but mainly from a human rights perspective. I saw a gap in my understanding, particularly regarding the unique sexual and reproductive health rights issues faced by this community. This training was an opportunity for me to delve deeper into these topics and to learn how to report on them more effectively and empathetically.

How will this training inform your work going forward?

As a journalist, I believe in the power of storytelling to shed light on underreported issues and foster understanding and empathy. LGBTIQ+ rights, particularly around sexual and reproductive health, are often neglected or misunderstood topics. This training has provided me with a much deeper understanding of these issues as they apply to the LGBTIQ+ community. It has sensitized me to the unique challenges faced by these individuals and has given me the tools to approach these topics with more empathy and accuracy. From here on, I plan to use this knowledge to highlight these issues in my reporting, with the aim of raising awareness and advocating for change. 

John Makuba, TV Reporter, K24

John Makuba, TV Reporter, K24, Kenya

Prior to this training you said you hadn’t reported on LGBTQ+ issues, what motivated you to participate in this course?

I wanted to learn more about LGBTQ+ issues because where l come from, it's like a taboo. As a journalist, one of my roles is to inform and educate the public, yet I was not that privy to information on matters about LGBTQ+ people and had never met anyone who boldly said [they] belong to this community.

How will this training inform your work going forward?   

As a journalist I have the power and responsibility to replace dehumanising stereotypes with nuanced portrayals of gender and sexual diversity. Doing so requires me to put biases aside and to embrace professionalism principles of fairness, accuracy and sensitivity. 

  • Meet the community: I learnt that I have to introduce myself to local community representatives, including the contacts I made during this meeting. While some representatives may be hesitant to meet me due to safety concerns or poor media reporting they’ve seen in the past, it’s still important to extend an invitation.
  • Avoid jargon: I will educate my audience on the use of accurate, accessible language and to clearly explain any terminology that might be unfamiliar, or they should know or avoid. It’s also important to familiarise myself with local terms and to find out whether LGBTQ+ people in different communities consider them affirming or derogatory.  
  • Protect your sources: As a journalist I should be able to protect myself and my sources by explaining when and where my story will be published, outlining any realistic dangers that may arise and giving them adequate time to privately reflect before agreeing to the story being published or aired. Other than reporting on stories of trauma, I should be able to highlight positive stories about the LGBTQ+ communities. Too often news coverage about LGBTQ+ people has focused on pain, suffering and abuse. However, we have stories about their joyful experiences, love and moments of triumph just like anyone else. 

Anita Mbanda, Finance and Operations Director and Becky Odhiambo, Programmes Director, Western Kenya LGBTQ Feminist Forum

Becky Odhiambo delivering a presentation to participants of the training course.

What are some of the challenges you face in delivering your work? 

One of the challenges we face stems from dealing with widespread propaganda, misinformation and disinformation amplified by the media, political class and religious fundamentalists in regard to misinterpretation of our laws that seek to promote and fulfill all human rights including - but not limited to - sexual and reproductive rights. 

The anti-LGBTQ+ messaging seeks to reinforce the promotion of monogamous marriages in line with article 45 of the constitution of Kenya and the marriage act 2014 with misinformation and disinformation around the fact that LGBT+ persons seek marriage equality under our laws which is not the case, we want the human rights of all Kenyan citizens to be respected and upheld. This messaging also limits our freedom of association, including promotion of same sex conduct. This is done using traditional and modern mediums of communication and has resulted in increased internalised homophobia amongst the LBTI+ women.  

How has the situation for the LGBTQ+ community changed in Kenya?  

Allyship is changing and at times appears volatile. This has made relaying LBTI+ information to the public challenging. That undisputed, the abjuration of factual and correct information on LBTI+ right holders’ lived realities still remains a challenge, as observed in the drafting of the family protection bill in March 2023 and the Linda Jamii constitutional amendment bill that is to be presented in the August house sometime this year. The family protection bill heavily borrows from the anti-homosexuality act 2023 of Uganda.  

LBTI+ right holders are experiencing profiling, threats and outing in public and private spaces, eviction from offices, family homes and rental spaces. Cyber bullying has also increased in online spaces.  

What are your key takeaways from the training? 

We have gotten to know our audiences and how to tailor key messaging that fits our different stakeholders using tools like Canva and Kinemaster. We have also developed a draft communications strategy that will focus more on audio visual mediums and podcasting, and we are now better prepared to conduct press conferences and draft press releases. Lastly, we updated our media contact database to include local, regional and international contacts.  

Join our Pride month celebrations

We are showcasing the Foundation’s work in advancing LGBTQ+ rights across our different services and focus areas from Openly - our digital news platform focused on delivering impartial LGBTQ+ news - to how our pro bono network Trustlaw supports organisations on the frontline of protecting LGBTQ+ people. Follow our Pride coverage across our social media channels to learn more.


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