Study Shows Pro-LGBT Religious Voices Underrepresented in National Media

Despite Growing Support across Faith Traditions, GLAAD and University of Missouri Study Counts Disproportionate Number of Anti-Gay Religious Voices in Media

Rich Ferraro
Director of Communications, GLAAD
(646) 871-8011
ferraro@glaad.org

April 12, 2012

Please share the report at www.glaad.org/missingvoices

New York, April 12, 2012 – GLAAD, the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy and anti-defamation organization, today released ‘Missing Voices: A study of religious voices in mainstream media reports about LGBT equality’ in partnership with the University of Missouri Center on Religion & the Professions. The study analyzes messages presented in national news outlets by religious voices about issues affecting the LGBT communities.

The research, a three year study of 316 news stories about LGBT issues, using 1,387 different religious sources on national television and print news media, shows a disproportionate reliance on anti-LGBT religious voices commenting on LGBT people and issues. 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.

To view the full report and for a fact sheet on key findings, please visit: http://glaad.org/missingvoices

“Today’s media has a responsibility to reflect the diversity of religious voices, rather than just those who choose not to support LGBT people,” said Ross Murray, Director of the Religion, Faith & Values Program at GLAAD. “By elevating select anti-LGBT voices who are out of touch with so many in their own churches, media is falsely representing views of entire religious groups and contributing to a climate that isolates LGBT youth and adults from their faith, a false dichotomy that no one should have to make.”

GLAAD will be presenting findings to national and local news rooms as part of a project to elevate messages from pro-LGBT religious voices.

Among other findings:

  • Whenever LGBT issues are discussed by religious voices in national media, outlets disproportionally quote or interview Evangelical Christian individuals (34 percent) and organizations (50 percent) and the messages from those sources were overwhelmingly negative (76 percent).
  • Evangelical Christians account for almost 40 percent of all the negative statements about LGBT issues made by religiously identified spokespeople.
  • Roman Catholic spokespeople account for another 12 percent of all negative statements about LGBT issues made by religiously identified spokespeople.
  • Over half of Catholics consulted presented negative messages about LGBT issues, which is significantly inconsistent with the majority of Catholics who support LGBT people. (see below).
  • Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholic spokespeople are consulted at rates higher than their proportion of the population (Evangelical 34 percent versus 26 percent; Roman Catholic 29 percent versus 24 percent). Mainline Protestants (Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.) and self-identified Humanist, atheist, and agnostic spokespeople are consulted at rates lower than their percentage of the United States population.
  • The mainstream media used far fewer religious sources from Mainline Protestant (17 percent), Jewish (5 percent), or other religious sources whose messages were predominantly positive.
  • Pro-LGBT or LGBT-identified sources are predominantly presented without any religious affiliation, thus contributing to a false and overly sensational ‘religion vs. gay’ frame.

While these results illustrate a lack of pro-LGBT religious voices in media, numerous studies have found that support for LGBT people is growing across religions:

From the Public Religion Research Institute in March 2011:

  • Less than 4-in-10 (39 percent) Catholics give their own church top marks (a grade of either an A or a B) on its handling of the issue of being gay.
  • 73 percent of Catholics favor laws that would protect gay and lesbian people against discrimination in the workplace; 63 percent of Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military; and 60 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.

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 percent), the unaffiliated (72 percent), and non-Christian religiously affiliated Americans (63 percent), a group that includes Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. A majority of white Catholics (56 percent), Hispanic Catholics (53 percent), and white mainline Protestants (52 percent) also favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

According to “Good News? Media Consumers and Producers on Religion Coverage,” a joint project of the Knight Program in Media and Religion at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron:

  • Less than one-fifth of journalists says they are “very knowledgeable” about religion and most of the those are mainly familiar with only their own religious tradition and know little about the many other traditions and faiths.   
  • Two-thirds of the American public says that religion coverage is too sensationalized in the news media – a view that is held by less that 30 percent of reporters.
  • A majority of both the public and reporters agree the news media “does a poor job of explaining religion in society,” with 57.1 percent and 51.8 percent agreeing, respectively.

“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.”