The media has a long and poor track record of reporting on transgender people, and the coverage surrounding Private Chelsea Manning has brought that lack of fair and accurate coverage into sharp focus. The coverage that we have seen thus far has relied on stereotypical images, contrived confusion over names and pronouns, and an obsession with surgery. Examples include:
- USA Today displaying a graphic that outlines several of the surgeries transgender women may elect to undergo, overemphasizing and sensationalizing the role of surgeries in the life of a transgender person. A transgender identity is not determined by medical procedures.
- The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, NPR, NBC, Fox News, Reuters, and a host of other outlets wrote articles that outlined the “struggles” that media outlets faced in referring to Private Manning as Chelsea or choosing a pronoun. The Washington Post, Fox News, and CNN still refuse to honor Private Manning’s preferred name and pronouns.
- CNN’s Jake Tapper conducted an interview with a close friend of Manning, continually referring to Manning as Bradley, and also referring to his guest as a “gay man” when she is a transgender woman.
The media disrespected and insulted all transgender people by using phrases like “choose to be a girl,” and CNN panelist Richard Herman saying that Manning will “get good practice” as a woman in prison. Fox News offensively teased a broadcast segment on Private Manning by playing Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like A Lady).”
Transgender people face tremendous levels of discrimination and violence. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs(NCAVP), 53% of anti-LGBT homicide victims in 2012 were transgender women – most were transgender women of color. According to the report“Injustice at Every Turn”:
- Transgender people experience unemployment at twice the rate of the general population, with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate.
- 90% of transgender people report experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job.
- 22% of respondents who have interacted with police reported harassment by police, with much higher rates reported by people of color.
- Almost half of the respondents (46%) reported being uncomfortable seeking police assistance.
- 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.
We, the undersigned organizations, call on journalists and media outlets to cover all transgender people with the dignity they deserve as human beings. Private Manning issued a public statement, read by her lawyer, that explicitly and unambiguously stated that she should be referred to as Chelsea and to use female pronouns. The Associated Press and theNew York Times have both announced that they will refer to Chelsea as she requested, and other media outlets should do the same.
The Associated Press Style Guide states that when referring to a transgender person, to “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals.” GLAAD’s full Media Reference Guide on reporting on transgender people may be found here.
The following are commonly accepted guidelines for covering a transgender person:
- Always use a transgender person’s preferred name.
- Whenever possible, ask transgender people which pronoun they would like used.
- Do not put quotation marks around either a transgender person’s preferred name or the pronoun that reflects that person’s gender identity.
- Avoid pronoun confusion when examining the stories and backgrounds of transgender people prior to their transition. In Private Manning’s case, she may simply be referred to as Private Manning.
Private Manning’s story presents an opportunity for the media to do a better job of telling the story of everyday transgender people who are simply trying to live their lives. The media has an opportunity – and the responsibility – to improve its reporting and accurately reflect the lives of transgender people.