A new study has found that religious contributors to the media are largely anti-gay, despite growing and often majority numbers among religious people favoring LGBT rights.
The Center on Religion & the Professions at University of Missouri, in partnership with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), studied three years of mainstream news media content.
They found that three out of four religious messages came from people whose religions have formal policies opposing LGBT equality — despite the fact that acceptance of LGBT people is growing across faith traditions.
A pro-LGBT religious perspective was almost absent and individuals who identify as both LGBT and religious were ignored, so viewers were left with distorted views of the relationship between LGBT people and religion and the media followed a false ‘gay vs. religion’ frame.
Evangelicals were consulted at a higher rate than their presence in the population would warrant. Catholics consulted presented negative messages about LGBT issues — when 71% of American Catholics support marriage equality and 73% support anti-discrimination laws that would protect LGBT people in the workplace and in public accommodations.
Mainline Protestant, Jewish, or other religious sources whose messages were predominantly positive were almost absent and despite 16% of Americans identifying as Humanist, atheist, or agnostic, only 1% of people quoted in the media are identified as such.
The study concluded:
By overlooking LGBT-affirming sources, journalists can contribute to — and even perpetuate — the idea that those who are religious are, by definition, opposed to LGBT equality. In looking specifically at the organizations represented among religious commentators, we find a common profile: culturally conservative entities seeking to influence the political debate, with overt reference to “Christian” or “biblical” values, and often with the explicit endorsement of currently serving political figures.
Disproportionately favoring the voices of Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics — who are more likely to present negative messages about LGBT people — is neither fair, nor accurate, nor balanced coverage.
According to the Public Religion Research Institute in January 2012:
- Five religious groups favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, compared to three groups who are opposed.
- Support is strongest among Jews (76%), the unaffiliated (72%), and non-Christian religiously affiliated Americans (63%), a group that includes Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. A majority of white Catholics (56%), Hispanic Catholics (53%), and white mainline Protestants (52%) also favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
“Given how many churches and religions are affirming LGBT people today, the lack of supportive religious voices in the media needs to be addressed,” said Debra Mason, professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. “The study shows media routinely set up a false conflict fueled by negative messages said by people with a religious affiliation.”
GLAAD recently launched a new resource which aims to educate people on the opinions of anti-gay pundits who often appear on news programs.