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LGBT People of Color: Addressing the Media's 'Diversity Issue'

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We all know the feeling. Each of us, at one point or another, has leafed through a daily metro newspaper, surveyed the most popular blogs, or flipped through the television channels only to be let down by the lack of diverse images in the media.

Whether your beef is with CBS, "the most watched network," and its continued lack of regular characters who are LGBT (according to GLAAD's 2011 Where We Are on TV report, of 134 regular characters, only one was LGBT), or with the media in both North Carolina and Maryland and their refusal to acknowledge that African-American community leaders have stepped to the front of conversations that affect the lives of LGBT Americans, the truth remains that we all want and deserve a media landscape that accurately reflects the diversity of our communities and tells the full story.

According to the most recent Census, there are more than 100 million Americans who identify as black (or African American), Latino (or of Hispanic heritage), or Asian, accounting for some 30 percent of the U.S. population. These groups likely make up a similar percentage of the LGBT community. But a quick scan of the media would tell a very different story. Particularly invisible within mainstream media are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of color. From national television to regional (and even LGBT) newspapers, media images of LGBT people are monolithically white and usually male. Within ethnic media outlets, the representations of families, professionals. and religious leaders are virtually all straight.

A lack of visibility promotes a world where, it would appear, LGBT people of color do not exist. And unfortunately, within this void, stereotypes and misconceptions continue to grow. When national, community, and ethnic media turn a blind eye to the everyday challenges affecting the lives of LGBT people of color, people don't see that 32 percent of children raised by black or Latino gay male couples and 23 percent of children in Asian or Pacific Islander gay households live in poverty. Among children raised by heterosexual, white couples, that number is 7 percent.

Americans know that same-sex relationships aren't legally recognized in most states. But do they know that most of our society's family assistance programs use a narrow definition of "family" that presumes that a child is being raised by legally recognized parents? Do they know that food and nutrition support, housing subsidies, health insurance, child-care assistance, educational loans, and other forms of aid may not be available to LGBT and other diverse families? Do they know how this disproportionately affects children and families of color?

In order to combat the silence and ignorance surrounding LGBT people of color, it is necessary to reach into communities across the country that might not even know that LGBT people are among their family, friends, and neighbors. In order for LGBT people of color to have the same rights and protections as their straight counterparts, it is necessary to change the media landscape.

GLAAD, along with many partner organizations, advocates, and community members, is doing that. But we all can to do more.

Whether it be working with iconic outlets like Ebony.com and trans advocate Monica Roberts to spotlight the contributions of transgender men and women to American history and black heritage; taking action against Puerto Rico's highly rated gossip show SuperXclusivo for breaking its promises and featuring blatantly anti-LGBT messages; or calling on the media to shine light on the injustice facing CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman currently on trial for trying to protect herself and her friends, GLAAD has made elevating voices of color in the media a priority.

Today we proudly announce our 2nd Annual National People of Color Media Training Institute, as a part of our National People of Color Media Initiative. The Media Training Institute was created specifically for people of color who are LGBT or LGBT allies and develops passionate and visible leaders who can speak across all media platforms about the issues that affect the lives of LGBT people and their families.

In its first year, GLAAD worked with 30 such advocates through the National People of Color Media Institute. As a result, their stories and views reached millions through national media outlets including National Public Radio (NPR), Black Enterprise, and Ebony, as well as community and ethnic media outlets such as El Diario, The Afro, and the New York Amsterdam News.

The year's institute will consist of a two-day training program in New York (Aug. 24 to 26) and Los Angeles (Sept. 7 to 9), where GLAAD staff, leading journalists, professional pundits, and key media trainers will develop participants' abilities and equip them with best practices for on-camera, radio, and print interviews.

Though media coverage of LGBT issues has drastically improved overall in the past few decades, the media's focus on how these issues specifically affect LGBT people of color is still almost as nonexistent as it was 20 or 30 years ago. Only by developing and empowering more voices that can speak about these issues will this ever change.

For more information about the institute, visit glaad.org/programs/pocmedia.