Coming out of the archives

Published

Credit: The Glasgow Guardian

Silas Pease
Reporter

A look back at the presentation of LGBTQ+ issues in The Glasgow Guardian throughout the years

As LGBTQ+ History Month comes to an end, it is important take this time to reflect on how far queer rights have come over the decades up until now. One of the ways that this can be seen is how media outlets have covered stories related to LGBTQ+ issues in their publications. This newspaper, founded in 1932 as The Gilmorehill Globe, has served as a voice for the students at Glasgow University for nearly 90 years, and we wanted to take a look at its coverage of queer issues, from its inception, to the turn of the century, and compare to where we stand now.

What can be seen in examining coverage of LGBTQ+ issues throughout this publication’s history is how for the first 30 years there is barely anything to speak of. It isn’t until the 1960s that discussions about topics such as the morality of homosexuality begin to be included. From this decade on, coverage was sparse at best, very rarely addressing queer issues directly but instead usually mentioning them as an offshoot to the main story. Some articles from this time did go in depth in discussing the problems facing gay students at the University, and were written by gay students themselves, though they were few and far between. This kind of coverage was maintained until the 1980s, when public opinion of homosexuality became generally more opposed than before, and stories around the AIDS epidemic and Clause 28 were at the focal point of The GG‘s coverage of queer issues. From the beginning of the 21st century and onwards, coverage appears to be more accepting of LGBTQ+ issues. This is in correlation to the repeal of Clause 28, the lowering of the age of consent for gay men from 21 to 16, and the legalisation of same-sex civil partnerships.

Though the content covering LGBTQ+ issues over the decades of this publication is sparse, it does correspond to certain UK-wide issues that would impact opinion and coverage of the community. One of these key points of discussion is on Clause 28 (or Section 28), a clause to the 1988 Local Government Act introduced by the then-Thatcher led Conservative government that banned the promotion of homosexuality in public schools. The passing of this act led to many pro-LGBTQ+ groups disassembling out of fear of breaching this clause. It was passed in the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the UK, which was and is still now in many ways associated with queer communities, and reflected popular anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments held by the general public and the UK government at the time. It was repealed in Scotland in 2000, and between these 12 years (specifically at either end of this period) a considerable amount of space was given to highlighting and discussing this topic. Discussions here ranged between for and against pieces and coverage of the Uni’s “GaySoc” and QMU responding to this legislation.

Coverage of the HIV/AIDS crisis itself was also sparse, though a major takeaway from examining the content seen in the archives is that little was known about the disease, which led to a lot of fear and resentment aimed at the gay community. This can be seen in the editorial sections of many editions where people writing in to respond to articles covering this epidemic would more often than not oppose the views or question the information given on the crisis. What should be said here is that, in spite of the increased national panic and subsequent vilification of gay people, many pro-queer activists and members of the University’s then-named “GaySoc” were given a platform on the publication to attempt to inform the public and quell the brewing fears against gay students. Even during one of the worst periods for queer communities, these groups were still given the space to try and promote understanding rather than being villainised completely.

In examining media coverage of specific issues and topics, what is not included in that coverage is in many ways just as important as what is covered. For instance, it wasn’t until the turn of the century that trans identities were even mentioned, let alone discussed in-depth. Again, this would stand to reflect the emergence of these topics into the public eye, as it stands with any issue, but the lack of coverage is in many ways a disservice to the Uni’s trans students, who weren’t even acknowledged by the paper until 20 years ago.

As students currently at the University in 2020, we have the benefit of being in an environment that is in many ways much more accepting of queer identities than before, but also with the knowledge of the historic setbacks and limitations faced by queer people in the University as well as in the general public at large. Looking at the coverage of queer issues throughout The Glasgow Guardian’s run, it is pretty clear to see that for the longest time people were barely tolerant of these identities if they acknowledged them at all, but what is commendable is that the paper did attempt to offer a balanced outlook on these issues at a time when even the government was actively working against these groups. Granted, it is eye-opening to see first hand the way in which these topics were handled. Derogatory language that would no doubt be upsetting to many readers is featured prominently in many article headlines, though these articles are very much a product of their times.

It would be fair to say that coverage of LGBTQ+ issues in The GG today is not only more accepting and respectful, but also more frequent. Readers will have hopefully seen a greater increase in queer-oriented pieces not only over the past month, but also in general. This would no doubt be in response to LGBTQ+ identifying people having more opportunities to have and use a platform to hold queer-oriented events and group discussions, which in turn would demand more attention from media outlets. Furthermore, this publication has also changed how it handles these issues, moving to be more accepting rather than just tolerant.

One could argue that today The Glasgow Guardian is doing a good job of paying respect to the LGBTQ+ members of the student body it writes for. That said, it is important that this publication strives to continue to bring these stories up for discussion, to give readers a more balanced view over bowing to fear-mongering spurred on by misinformation and rhetoric, and to continue to give queer writers a platform to share their voices.