Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples
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Are Couples Overlooked?
Partners’ Gay/Lesbian Media Survey
© 1998, Demian

In February 1991, Partners Task Force distributed surveys, designed by Steve Bryant, to approximately 700 gay-oriented print and broadcast media to determine their policies and practices concerning coverage of relationship unions and anniversaries. We received 101 responses.

Having monitored nearly a hundred publications over several years, Partners has observed increasing coverage of couples issues. However, the gay media appeared to fall short of honoring same-sex relationships in the same way daily newspapers do with regular announcements of weddings and anniversaries. It appeared that obituaries were the only personal landmarks regularly covered in our gay media of record.

This Partners Gay/Lesbian Media Survey was designed to test these impressions, provide reliable statistics, and increase awareness of the issues. Hopefully, these results will help the gay/lesbian media better serve the needs of its audience. Surveys have shown that 60 percent of the gay and lesbian community are in a relationship, so the majority of their audience are coupled.

We also hope the results will encourage couples to share their stories with the gay/lesbian media, which we found generally receptive to news of our relationship landmarks.

Survey results

The 101 media responding to the survey represent 32 states and together reach more than 1 million people. Most do so in a printed medium. Monthly newsletters made up the largest portion of respondents, but major newspapers also were represented. Most of the media reach both men and women.

Type of media          
Newsletter          39%
Newspaper           25%
Magazine            22%
Radio/TV            14%

Weekly/biweekly     27%
Monthly             43%
Bimonthly/quarterly 25%
Other                6%

Less than 1,000     30%
1,000-5,000         30%
5,001-25,000        21%
More than 25,000    20%

Gender emphasis        
Men and women       68%
Women               19%
Men                 12%
Views of audience
Respondents made wildly varying estimates of the relationship status of their audience. While research shows that roughly half of gay men and lesbians are in relationships, some media believed that no more than 20 percent of their audience were coupled. Only one-fifth of the media based their belief on audience or reader surveys; the majority relied on estimates.

Portion of audience believed
to be in a same-sex
0-20%               11%
21-40%              30%
41-60%              19%
61-80%              13%
81-100%             27%
Proffering advice
Seventy percent of the media said they run advice on committed same-sex relationships; 30 percent did not. Of those offering advice, 71 percent offered it sometimes and 29 percent did so often.

Media serving women only were the least likely to run relationship advice, as shown below.

Media offering advice,
by audience served     
Men                 83%
Men and women       76%
Women               37%
Coverage trends
Respondents confirmed that coverage of same-sex issues has increased significantly in the last two years. In no case did media report having reduced coverage.

Number of news/feature stories
on couples compared
to two years ago       
Far greater         10%
Greater             33%
About the same      57%
Smaller              0%
Far smaller          0%
Formal policies
Very few of the respondents reported having formal policies addressing the coverage of personal landmarks.

Formal policies
in place               
Deaths               4%
Weddings/ceremonies  3%
   anniversaries     2%
Children newly
   adopted by or 
   born to gay/
   lesbian parents   2%
Announcements of personal landmarks
The survey examined coverage patterns for four types of personal landmarks:
      same-sex weddings or similar ceremonies (holy unions, blessings, celebrations or similar observances),
      anniversaries of gay or lesbian couples,
      children adopted by or born to gay or lesbian parents,
      obituaries of gay and lesbian community members.

In each case, we asked if the media had:
      run such announcements,
      offered to run such announcements, but received no responses,
      neither offered nor received requests to run such announcements,
      refused to run such announcements.

In addition to reporting total responses, we single out responses from the 24 newspapers surveyed since the newspaper medium has the strongest tradition of announcing personal landmarks.

Announcements of weddings
or similar ceremonies               
              All media   Newspapers
Have run            37%   63%
Offered/no response  6%    4%
No offer/no request 55%   25%
Refused to run       2%    8%
Earliest reported in 1978. Of media that run such announcements, 67 percent started since 1989. Four respondents averaged more than one announcement a month. Fifty-three announcements were reported in the previous six months.

The two media that refused announcements — both newspapers — reported doing so because they have a regional or national scope.

Publications with more than 16 pages and media with a readership/audience of more than 25,000 were much more likely to run wedding announcements than shorter, less widely circulated media.

Some of the media surveyed have a specialized purpose, such a political organizing or professional networking, where personal announcements may not be especially appropriate. Still, some newsletters mentioned congratulating member couples and one radio programmer responded, “We receive requests to dedicate songs for couples anniversaries, etc., and we usually do so.”

Anniversary announcements           
              All media   Newspapers
Have run            27%   46%
Offered/no response  4%    4%
No offer/no request 68%   46%
Refused to run       1%    4%
Earliest reported in 1980. Of media that run such announcements, 56 percent started since 1989. Two respondents were prolific, running 13 and 20 announcements during the previous six months. In all, 59 anniversary announcements were noted during the previous six months.

Adoption/child birth announcements  
              All media   Newspapers
Have run            18%   44%
Offered/no response  2%    0%
No offer/no request 78%   52%
Refused to run       2%    4%
Earliest reported in 1985. Of media that run such announcements, 78 percent started since 1989. Only 15 such announcement were noted during the previous six months.

              All media   Newspapers
Have run            47%   67%
Offered/no response  1%    0%
No offer/no request 49%   29%
Refused to run       3%    4%
Earliest reported in 1978. Of media that run such announcements, 60 percent started before 1989. Forty percent of all respondents averaged one or more obituaries per month over the previous six months. In all, 169 obituaries were noted during the previous six months.

Conclusion: Signs of problems, progress
During the previous six months, the respondents had published more obituaries than all other types of personal announcements combined. Obituaries appear to have been a well-established part of gay/lesbian media coverage before relationship announcement regularly appeared.

Number of announcements in previous six months

However, the survey results show a willingness on the part of respondents to publish relationship announcements. For instance, a sizeable majority of newspapers had run wedding notices at least once — nearly as many as had announced deaths.

Media running at least
one announcement                    
              All media   Newspapers
Deaths              47%   67%
Weddings            37%   63%
Anniversaries       27%   46%
Children            18%   44%
Since the media rely on their readers or audience for information, same-sex couples must take responsibility for sharing news of their relationship landmarks. A small number of respondents noted that offers to make announcements went unanswered.

However, media can do far more to pave the way for enhanced family coverage by announcing their interest in publishing such news. For instance, more than 25 percent of newspapers had not offered to publish announcements.

The survey itself raised awareness among some editors. One editor responded, “Thank you for alerting me of a service we can start offering our readers.”

Another summed it up, “Okay, okay … I get the picture. We’ll offer to run wedding announcements, obits, etc.! Never occurred to us!”

Setting an example
Sacramento's Mom… Guess What! newspaper was a forerunner, first reporting a wedding in 1978 and printing its first anniversary announcement in 1980.

The Washington (D.C.) Blade joined the vanguard in 1990 with its “Occasions” column, which frequently announces union ceremonies, births and anniversaries in three- to seven-paragraph articles. The paper doesn’t sit back and wait for submissions, it regularly publishes a call for contributions to the column.

According to Lisa M. Keen, senior editor, the Blade treats the announcements “much like other news stories in that we will run a report only if we can use the subjects’ full and legal names. And we run a photo as often as we can.”

In an emerging category of recognition, Minneapolis-based Equal Times newspaper offered March 1991 to publish notices of couples having registered with the city as domestic partners.

Finally, Your Paper is setting a noteworthy tone in California with a masthead proclaiming it “The Gay Family Paper of the Santa Clara Valley.”

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