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Monday, February 6, 2012
Diversity Toolbox

Covering the transgender community

By Sandy Frost

My son Ray is a transgender person. As a journalist and mother, I’ve realized that many media outlets don’t know how to cover this community. Sometimes reporters are afraid to ask questions or don’t even bother to get to know the transgender community that exists in their city.

The term “transgender” made headlines when Chaz Bono was chosen to participate in the popular TV show “Dancing With the Stars.” The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation even put out a media guide for journalists on how to cover the Bono story. GLAAD wanted to make sure that reporters got it right. (See the guide.)

FINDING STORIES IN THE TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY

I recently attended a Trans Justice Healthcare Summit in Portland, Ore., sponsored by Basic Rights Oregon. I was there to support my son, who was participating in the Advocating Your Employer or Municipality panel. The program focused on how Multnomah County and the city of Portland were taking steps to provide transgender health care benefits.

These are stories about the transgender community that we as reporters should be reporting. Municipalities and corporations in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle are making headlines as they comply with health care, employment and civil rights laws by providing health care benefits, including “sex assignment” surgery, to transgender employees and their families. But what are your communities doing for transgender individuals? What are the big companies doing when it comes to health care? Or, what are they not doing? These are the stories that need to be told.

WHAT DOES TRANSGENDER MEAN?

Here’s how GLAAD has broken down the terminology in its Media Reference Guide (See the full guide):

Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression or behavior differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.

Transition is altering one’s birth sex. It is a complex multi-step process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition includes some or all of the following personal, legal and medical adjustments: telling one’s family, friends and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) one or more forms of surgery.

Sex Reassignment Surgery refers to surgical alteration, and is only one small part of transition. Preferred term to “sex change operation.” Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have SRS. Journalists should avoid overemphasizing the role of SRS in the transition process.

RESOURCES FOR REPORTERS

Several resources are available to help you do a better job of covering the transgender community and understand it.

GLAAD Media Guide: It also provides preferred, offensive and defamatory terms as well as style guidance from The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

•Human Rights Campaign provides education on transgender issues.

•National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Stylebook Supplement on LGBT terminology.

Gay, Lesbian and Straight Information Network.

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

We’re supposed to educate the public through our work. As a journalist, that is important to me, but more importantly as the mother of a transgender person, I want the stories to be fair and accurate.

Psychologists and physicians use the medical terms “gender identity disorder” and/or “gender dysphoria” to diagnose those who are uncomfortable with their assigned gender. Many times, the process begins in childhood. From the archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine:

“Transgender adolescents are an underserved and poorly researched population that has very specific medical and mental health needs. Primary care physicians are in a unique and powerful position to promote health and positive outcomes for transgender youth. Finding comprehensive medical and mental health services is extremely difficult for these youth, who are at risk for multiple psychosocial problems including family and peer rejection, harassment, trauma, abuse, inadequate housing, legal problems, lack of financial support, and educational problems. This review supports and describes timely medical intervention to achieve gender/body congruence paired with affirmative mental health therapy as an appropriate approach to minimize negative health outcomes and maximize positive futures for transgender adolescents.”



The transgender community should not be ignored. Let’s start reporting stories that will give our readers and viewers something to think about and remind transgender individuals that they do matter to journalists.

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