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10 Tips for the Media on How to Stop Screwing Up HIV/AIDS Coverage

December 10, 2010

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  1. The Fight for LGBT Equality Is Connected to HIV Risk: While the media continues to improve its reporting on LGBT issues -- especially around bullying, homophobia, DADT (the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law), marriage equality and job discrimination -- more needs to be done to illustrate how these issues directly impact one's own HIV risk.

    This year, on a global level, we saw the media cover the criminalization of homosexuality in certain countries in Africa and explore how that anti-gay sentiment made it extremely difficult to do HIV work. We need to be able to make those same connections in the U.S.

    It may come as a surprise to some that there are still many cases (and many states) in which it is legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in the U.S. And if people can be fired from their job, that means they can lose their financial stability. They become less able to look after their health care, and in some cases may even become homeless. A slew of reasons begin to emerge that can make those individuals more vulnerable to HIV.

    (Hint, hint: National LGBT organizations, perhaps now is the time to make HIV/AIDS a platform issue. If you do, the media might follow.)

  2. Stop Ignoring the "T" in "LGBT": Don't let the New York Times' article about how "2010 will be remembered as the year of the transsexual" fool you into believing that transgender people get their fair share of media coverage and respect. While there has been a slight increase in trans representation, all media -- mainstream, LGBT and even HIV/AIDS media (including us at -- needs to do a better job at discussing how issues of safety, job instability and sex work heighten trans folks' HIV risk. (Not to mention how hormone therapy may interact with HIV meds.) However, it's also true that more work needs to be done within the HIV/AIDS community to ensure that transgender advocates receive more funding and support to conduct necessary research about transgender health.
  3. Try Normalizing HIV; It's Not That Hard: HIV has always been the "cheese that stands alone" -- it's even classified separately from other sexually transmitted diseases. One way to help destigmatize the disease is to include a discussion about HIV into stories in which HIV is simply a fact to be noted, not the focus of the entire piece. For example, in a feature about people struggling to pay for their health care or the difficulties of adhering to daily medications, why not include a person living with HIV as one of the interviewees? Or in a story about Mother's Day, or Valentine's Day, or Veteran's Day, why not include the perspective of an HIV-positive person? HIV doesn't always have to exist outside the box.
  4. If You Don't Know, You Better Ask Somebody: Dear journalists: Since the invention of the telephone (and, more recently, the Internet), there is no longer any reason to continue to publish stories that are not factual or that are irresponsibly one-sided. There are plenty of experts, people living with HIV and advocates who can help you understand the complexities of the epidemic. If you have a question, reach out to them. You can even reach out to one of us and we can help get you into contact with the right people. Please use us as a resource. Yours truly,

What else do you believe was mismanaged in the media this year? What other recommendations do you have for journalists? Please e-mail us or leave a comment below!

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for and

Copyright © 2010 The HealthCentral Network, Inc. All rights reserved.

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See Also
HIV/AIDS Year in Review: Looking Back on 2010 (and Ahead to 2011)
13 Moments in Black Celebrity Activism
History's Biggest HIV-Positive Celebrities
More About HIV on Television
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