A Guide to Cover the Transgender Community
This year has been especially deadly for transgender people, with deaths in 2020 surpassing that in all of 2019 this summer. When Bree Black, a Black transgender woman was shot and killed in South Florida, many news outlets covered the same press conference, but they all came out with different stories. This inspired SPJ Florida to create a guide on covering the transgender community as well as more thorough resources available to journalists.
This post was created by two board members of SPJ Florida, Percy Mercer and Brendon Lies, who are transgender journalists.
Even in 2020, it’s not uncommon for trangender victims of violence to not get the recognition they deserve.
A Black transgender woman named Bree Black was shot and killed on July 3 in Pompano Beach. WPLG Local 10 News deadnamed her, calling her “trans gendered” and confusing the terms “gender” and “sexuality.”
“27-year-old (deadname) is being remembered as a caring and kind person,” the article reads. “(Deadname), a trans gendered woman, identified as male at times and female other times, as Bree Black.”
On May 29, a Black transgender man named Tony McDade was shot and killed in Tallahassee. The Tallahassee Democrat originally deadnamed McDade and used incorrect pronouns. Now the article has been edited to discard use of pronouns for McDade.
“Police and witnesses initially identified McDade as a woman, but others asserted McDade was a trans man,” the article now reads. “One person who knew McDade but asked to remain anonymous said McDade wore men’s clothes but identified as a woman.”
These reports are wrong.
This isn’t acceptable.
Trans lives matter, and we at SPJ Florida are calling on local media outlets to do better.
We write to serve our communities, to be a watchdog and to give a voice to the voiceless. We report to share information, to tell stories and to teach. But when we tell the story wrong, we’re doing more harm to our community than good.
How we report on these things matter. Our actions, words and work have consequences. Reporting carefully, accurately and ethically should be our top priority, especially when unfamiliar, new or controversial topics come up.
At the end of the day, it comes down to respecting a person’s existence and experience. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been fatally shot or killed by other violent means so far this year. In particular, Black transgender women are disproportionately affected by violence.
When reporting on murders like these, we need to get our facts straight.
When we use the victim’s deadname and incorrect gender or pronouns, it’s disrespectful and undignifying. It perpetuates the ideas that are often the cause for violence against these people. Misgendering and misnaming victims only creates more pain.
In the case of Bree Black’s murder, WPLG Local 10 News reported incorrectly by using her deadname and referring to her as both a man and a woman. However, the Miami Herald covered her murder in a much different light.
Instead of deadnaming her, they called her by her chosen name, while explaining the reason why the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s public records called her a different name. They defined deadnaming, used her correct pronouns and stated why they wouldn’t release her dead name. And then they moved on.
In addition, it’s our job as reporters to do our research.
Gender and sexuality are, by no means, interchangeable or the same thing. Although both terms can fall under the umbrella of the LGBTQ+ community, gender is the identity a person uses to describe who they are and what pronouns they use and sexuality is defined as who a person is sexually or romantically attracted to.
Police reports aren’t the gospel
Just like we do with every other document, reporters are expected to treat police reports with skepticism. There’s a difference between biological sex and gender. Just because a police report is filled out with an “M” or “F,” that doesn’t mean it’s an implication of gender or pronoun use. It’s still our job to report on who the victim was, whether it be by scrolling through their social media or speaking with their family or loved ones.
When it comes to breaking news or deadlines, it can be hard to know for sure whether or not you’re reporting deaths correctly. That’s why it’s so important to be fluid with the story as new information comes to light. If you find out you’ve been using a dead name or incorrect pronouns, it’s a factual error that needs to be fixed.
Your questions have answers
Just like there’s no excuse for running incorrect, run-of-the-mill facts, there’s no excuse for getting these facts wrong, either. As reporters, it’s our job to be experts on the subjects we cover so that we can be ready to answer the public’s questions.
Whether it be through researching style guides, getting to know the subject of our writing better or just asking questions, we should report on the trans community like we would with any other beat: carefully, ethically and accurately.
On top of that, there are resources out there. You aren’t alone in covering these topics, and there are people who can help if you’re new to the topic.
Easy-to-understand, free style guide and tips include:
- GLAAD’S Media Reference Guide
- Trans Journalist Association’s Style Guide
- The NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists Stylebook Supplement on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Terminology, which is available in both English and Spanish
- GateHouse Newsroom LGBT AP Style Tips
We’ve also created these three graphics that can be shared on social media to help!