Remembering the Need for Accurate Reporting on Trans Stories

Reporting around Tyli'a NaNa Boo Mack's murder in August 2009 frequently misidentified her
Reporting around Tyli'a NaNa Boo Mack's murder in August 2009 frequently misidentified her

As we honor Transgender Day of Remembrance with a week of reflective and informative blogs, we must also pause to remember the power of the media to shape perceptions about transgender people and the need for fair and inclusive reporting on transgender individuals and their experiences.  The media still needs to improve  its overall understanding of transgender topics.

Last year the American Journalism Review published a comprehensive overview article on the status of news reporting in the area of transgender issues. The AJR applauded a handful of reports that did present meaningful and rich portraits of transgender issues.  However, their predominant message was that news organizations must catch themselves up to speed with their reporting of transgender-related stories.

We at GLAAD agree with Mara Keisling’s observation of “the media’s tendency to sensationalize the trivial and ignore the significant when it comes to reporting on the transgender community.”

Often times reporting of transgender-related stories occurs around instances of extreme anti-transgender violence and/or discrimination.  Especially in the context of pressured reporting from the scene of a violent crime against a gender non-conforming person, the standards for journalism remain unacceptably low.  Journalists, who struggle to use the correct pronouns and terminology even when their subjects are able to inform them about their identities, have an unfortunate record of disrespecting the names and identities of transgender victims who are no longer able to correct it.

Directly following the recent brutal attack on two transgender women in Washington, D.C., media headlines overwhelmingly identified the victims as either “men” or “transgender males,” both inaccurate reports.  Times of crisis are the moments when stories about transgender communities ought to be the most respectful and thoughtful, yet they continue to stand out as the most problematic.

There have, however, been examples of reports inspired by horrific anti-transgender attacks that take the opportunity to explore transgender lives and issues more thoroughly.  In its coverage of the conviction of Lateisha Green’s killer in July 2009, the LA Times (for instance) made sure to discuss the larger issues raised by such an attack and provided background on the daily hardships Teish and many transgender women have faced throughout their lives.

GLAAD will continue to advocate for this type of inclusive journalism when it comes to transgender reporting, as we are especially reminded of the great importance of doing so during this week of reflection on our losses.