The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association yesterday sent this letter to their colleagues at the NBC Olympics news team:
I am writing you today on behalf of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) regarding concerns we have about coverage of the upcoming Olympic Games. NLGJA and NBC have a long history together, and we want to remind you that we are here to help you. The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi will be one of the most covered events of 2014. As part of that story, NLGJA strongly encourages American and international media to cover human rights concerns being raised by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Russians as well as LGBT people who will be covering, attending and participating in the games.
In July, Russia imposed a law that imposed fines on those who spread information "directed at forming nontraditional sexual set ups" or that gives the "distorted understanding" that homosexuals are "socially equivalent" to heterosexuals. The "homosexual propaganda" penalized under the legislation includes wearing a rainbow flag or tweeting positive messages about gays or lesbians. The law also provides for the arrest and detention of foreigners engaging in such activities for up to 15 days followed by deportation.
The Russian government has given the International Olympic Committee assurances that the laws will not be enforced during the international games, although some Russian lawmakers have made statements that run counter to those assurances. Reports of comments from NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus, while supportive of LGBT people, were not clear in terms of what degree of coverage his network would give to these issues during the games.
NLGJA is an organization of journalists, media professionals, educators and students with a mission of ensuring fairness and accuracy in the coverage of lesbian gay bisexual and transgender people. As journalists, we know these developments are clearly news. Violence against outspoken LGBT Russians in the wake of the new law followed by calls by some American LGBT and Russian people for boycotts of both the Olympics and Russian-affiliated products have made this a story that any news organization covering the Games should include in its reporting.
This story also should be covered from the perspective of the athletes. Often, coverage of the Olympic Games becomes a celebration of the competition and the celebration of the human spirit. Many LGBT athletes have overcome harassment and stereotyping to become powerful sports competitors. But many LGBT athletes still feel they have to hide their sexual orientation to take their place among the world's top competitors. Competition inherently comes with fear. But for LGBT athletes participating in these games, that fear now includes persecution, possibly even violence.
We urge you to share these stories through your coverage. We also ask you to include LGBT athletes in your coverage, and put into context the personal challenge attending the Winter Olympic Games presents for them.
NLGJA members in print, broadcast, online, international and national newsrooms will be covering the Olympic Games. We are not an advocacy group, but a group of working journalism professionals dedicated to ensuring fair and accurate coverage of the LGBT community. We will be watching the coverage of these games with great interest. But we will also be watching for the stories that aren't told.
Please consider: Words matter. Athletes are among the biggest role models in our society. Research has shown that LGBT teens and young adults have one of the highest rates of all suicide attempts. Depression and drug use among LGBT people have both been shown to increase significantly after new laws that discriminate against gay people are passed. Bullying of LGBT youth has been shown to be a contributing factor in many suicides, even if not all of the attacks have been specifically addressing sexuality or gender.
We're also concerned, naturally, about the safety of journalists covering these issues. We can offer guidance and resources to help ensure the safety of LGBT and straight journalists who will be covering these stories.
NLGJA isn't just for LGBT people. As your colleagues, we are here for all journalists. Please feel free to reach out to our leaders and members for guidance and assistance. Check out our website at nlgja.org/resources.
VP of Broadcast
On behalf of the the National Board of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association