The University of Texas at Austin is now home to the state’s first chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, a national organization aimed at improving LGBTQ news coverage. Rather than focusing on professional coverage, the local chapter will target the next generation of professional journalists: students.
According to Forrest Milburn, a junior journalism major at UT and the chapter’s founder, that means educating students on topics such as the importance of asking sources for their pronouns and how to cover LGBTQ events and issues in a conscientious way.
It was the problematic coverage of the Texas Legislature’s proposed bathroom bill that inspired Milburn to launch the chapter. Numerous news outlets identified individuals as “transgendered” or “transgenders,” aka “terms to avoid” as defined by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation handbook.
During his near three years at UT, Milburn said he’s witnessed students misgender sources and burn bridges with members of the LGBTQ community because they were not properly educated on how to write about LGBTQ topics. The UT NLGJA chapter hopes future UT graduates will have a greater knowledge and familiarity with the queer community, which will help writers cover these LGBTQ stories in a compassionate and accurate way.
Milburn said the chapter also hopes to combat the lack of diversity in newsrooms. In the future, he wants to see more queer reporters covering both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ issues. “As students, we shouldn’t be furthering the mistakes of professional news organizations,” Milburn said. “There should be more gay sports reporters, more trans state hall reporters, and more lesbian reporters who cover entertainment.”
In the last month, the chapter has gained six officers, 13 paying members, and 27 members on Facebook. They held their first panel earlier this month with three local professional journalists who weighed in on the bathroom bill topic.
When the fall semester picks up in August, Milburn said the NLGJA hopes to collaborate with other minority journalism groups with local chapters on campus, including National Association of Hispanic Journalists and Asian American Journalists Association, which both launched during the 2016-2017 academic year, and National Black Journalists Association, which began in 2011.
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