What Jazz Jennings and other activists think of LGBTQ media representation
While LGBTQ media representation has soared recently, thanks to TV shows such as Transparent and Orange is the New Black, it’s without question that we still have major strides to make in terms of positively portraying queer and trans characters.
LGBTQ advocates Jazz Jennings, Sarah Kate Ellis, Ingrid Nilsen and Tiq Milan sat down with Mashable‘s social goodreporter Katie Dupere to address these issues at Mashable‘s seventh-annual on Sunday.
The evolution of LGBTQ media representation
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, described the LGBTQ media advocacy organization’s focus on galvanizing change in the media.
“We know that media coverage can be the most effective and efficient way to change hearts and minds,” said Ellis, powerfully kicking off the panel.
She went on to explain how GLAAD took this information to heart when it was founded about 30 years ago.
The early stages of the organization were about “lobbying Hollywood and news media journalists to have them portray LGBTQ people in a fair and accurate way,” Ellis said.
If you didn’t know someone who was gay, back in the ’80s, you just thought that they hid in this closet and they were demons, and so it was really important to start to show what a gay person looked like. And when we do that, we humanize people. When we tell people’s stories we get to know people and then you can’t hate someone whose story you know.
LGBTQ people seeing themselves represented
Ellis had no opportunities to see LGBTQ women on TV or in film when she was growing up.
“When I was younger, there wasn’t anyone for me to see who was gay or lesbian, so … I never saw a future for myself because I never saw myself represented,” she said. “I always thought that, come my early 20s, my life would be over, because I didn’t see or imagine what my life would be.”
Tiq Milan writer, activist and black trans man saw a different sort of media representation when he was discovering his identity.
“There still isn’t a lot of trans masculine representation in the media, particularly for trans men of color,” Milan said. “So, for me, I had to imagine myself into existence.”
“I had to imagine myself into existence.”
Because Milan couldn’t find representation of black trans men on TV or film, he turned to social media. He thought he was the only black trans man “on the planet” until he came across a Yahoo chat room full of hundreds of black trans men.
“[The chat room] helped me understand that I existed in the world and I wasn’t the only one … As we move this conversation forward, it’s not enough just to have transgender people in front of the camera, but we also have to be behind the camera,” he said. “We also have to have some type of control over our marriages, and also have to have a more intersectional approach.”
Alternatively, Jazz Jennings grew up in the eyes of the media. Jennings, a trans teen, is a noted LGBTQ activist, especially for trans youth, and she’s the star of the reality series I Am Jazz.
“I matured through the media,” she said. “So, I started off as this 6-year-old girl who was just declaring her gender identity. And I think that now, my message has evolved and developed to the extent where I could share it help other people live their lives authentically and be true to who they are.”
Jennings said she was proud of what she’s been able to accomplish, and is happy to see the growth of the LGBTQ community as “people are really starting to come out of the shadows.”
Representation in 2016
Ingrid Nilsen, activist and lifestyle YouTuber who came out as a gay woman on the platform, said Sunday that she believes the media is evolving, and growing away from stereotypical representation of LGBTQ people.
“Now more than ever, we are in a time where we’re seeing stereotypes just being obliterated, and they’re visibly being obliterated,” Nilsen said. “I think that is the key there because people like myself … have always existed. And the difference is people just weren’t able to see that.”
Despite the increased visibility, there are still many challenges to expressing a queer identity online.
“Every single day, my identity is challenged.”
“My job is on the internet. And every single day, my identity is challenged, and people tell me that I’m lying, and that I’m not who I say I am,” Nilsen said. “For me, it’s really important to be my authentic self and to share that with people as a feminine-presenting biracial gay woman.”
And, although she is using YouTube to create a path for the community, Nilsen is grateful to the LGBTQ people who struggled for acceptance before her own fight.
“I am very appreciative and aware of the foundation that has been laid for me to make this possible,” she said. “For me to have a safer space, to come out and authentically be who I am.”
Milan is also hyperaware that being a media creator gives you the opportunity to change society.
“Media is not just that we document the culture, it’s not just us telling stories, but we are creating culture as we do it,” he said.
Where do we go from here?
Looking forward to 2030, which is the goal of the Social Good Summit, the panel had crucial ideas on how to advocate for more inclusion in depicting the spectrum of LGBTQ people.
“It is so important that we have this reputation that says we exist,” Milan said of the LGBTQ community.
“It is so important that we have this reputation that says we exist.”
“When we don’t see gender in the media, it makes monsters out of us,” he said.
The panel agreed LGBTQ people need proper representation in order to be humanized, understood and to achieve equality. But Nilsen says she believes the term “diversity” can be problematic when trying to further positive LGBTQ representation.
“I kind of wish the word ‘diversity’ was nonexistent and we used ‘reality’ instead,” she said. “I would love to see reality reflected in the stories that are told. Because that’s the world that we live in.”
In pushing for this “reality,” Nilsen admits there can be growing pains. But she says both the community and society at large need one thing: patience.
“Along with all of this work that we’re doing, we should remember to be patient with ourselves with other people, but not passive,” she says. “I think that’s key: Be patient but not passive.”
About Social Good Summit
The is a two-day conference examining the impact of technology and new media on social good initiatives around the world. Held during U.N. Week on Sept. 18 and 19, the Social Good Summit unites a dynamic community of global leaders and grassroots activists to discuss solutions for the greatest challenges of our time. You can watch the event live at .