The lives of transgender people, more often lost in translation than understood, are being featured in the media more than at any other time, and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Associate has made a concentrated effort to address some of those issues at its 2015 national convention in San Francisco.
The NLGJA Stylebook was scrupulously reviewed, gender-neutral bathrooms were provided for attendees and several sessions dedicated to transgender issues were featured in the program.
“Misgendering comes in multiple forms, including Hollywood trans-face casting,” said journalist and woman of transsexual and intersex history Ashley Love, who moderated a panel called “Affirmation Proclamation: Trans* Elders Review Misgendering in News, Culture and Hollywood” on Sept. 3. “It’s also misusing ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ as trans-inclusive umbrella terms and trans-misogynistic segregation in public accommodations.”
Miss Major, a veteran of the Stonewall revolution, stressed that trans discrimination involves more than just words.
“It’s an attitude. It’s how you look and perceive us,” said the black transgender elder and activist. “We are judged immediately by the opinions you hold in your heads.”
Other panelists picked up on that sense of judgment that they experienced from the non-trans communities.
“How I perceive misgendering is looking at someone and saying, ‘I am judging you now,’” said Jamison Green, an advocate, educator and author of “Becoming A Visible Man.”
According to Finish researcher Sade Kondelin, being misgendered is failing to pass as or to blend in with their intended gender. It’s a trap that media have often fallen into.
When Vanity Fair released a preview of its “Call me Caitlyn” issue on June 1, the Associated Press initially tweeted the news and used the pronoun “his” to identify transgender woman Caitlyn Jenner.
“Even though AP Style and NLGJA Style say you should use the gender name and pronoun that people prefer, it doesn’t always happen,” said Ina Fried, senior editor at Re/Code and chair of the NLGJA Transgender and Allies Task Force. “Journalists are still finding their way around how to write a feature story about somebody who has lived their lives in two genders.”
In the case of Gwen Araujo, a transgender woman who was beaten to death in 2002, the first report by the San Francisco Chronicle used the pronoun “he.” LGBT young people were extremely upset about the mistake, said David Steinberg, a copy desk chief at the San Francisco Chronicle.
“It becomes difficult for reporters when the police are telling you one thing and, in Gwen’s case, the mother kept referring to ‘he,’” Steinberg said.
When the reporter on Araujo’s story referred to the Chronicle’s in-house stylebook to write the story, he found an entry identifying a person after sex reassignment that was inaccurate.
“We fixed it immediately,” Steinberg said. “The reporter was trying to do the right thing by looking at the stylebook.”
Stylebooks are not a glossary of LGBT life. The NLGJA Stylebook provides terminology to be used to fairly and accurately report on issues that affect LGBT communities, especially language that can be offensive when used incorrectly.
“I hope that [the NLGJA Stylebook] is more accurate and respectfully portraying the community and people who identify as transgender,” said Sarah Blazucki, NLGJA’s Vice President of Print and Online. “As NLGJA, we have the responsibility to make sure, to the best of our ability, to put out the right information and calling on other journalists to involve in our language.”
The August 2015 Stylebook was a result of hurried updates that started in 2014.
Blazucki said the committee had several meetings where they had in-depth conversations about the nuances of language. Although they had two cycles of updates, the August 2015 Stylebook is the only printed version and is available at the convention.
Besides the stylebook, NLGJA’s Rapid Response Task Force responds to negative coverage or anticipates issues in widely covered events involving gender identity or sexual orientation.
“We have a conversation about the ethics of responding to issues misquoted from the police or something we need to educate a newsroom on,” said Ken Miguel, chairman of the Rapid Response Task Force and vice president of broadcast at KGO-TV. “We explain why things are not appropriate to use, what is the preferred term, and why some terms are politically loaded.”
The Rapid Response Take Force, which is made up of about 15 people, was proactive in sending out an open letter to the media dedicated to coverage of the transgender community in advance of the Jenner event.
Miguel said there is still a long way to go with improving transgender coverage, but so far it’s been a learning process for all people in media who don’t understand transgender issues. It’s also provided an opportunity for transgender people to better explain fair and accurate reporting to journalists and newsrooms.