Listen Before You Speak: Discussing Trans and Gender-Diverse People in the Media
Accuracy and fairness are important pillars of ethical journalism and good reporting. When writing stories about trans and gender-diverse people, using respectful and accurate language must be part of those ethical considerations.
Questions have the power to challenge and engage; they can change perspectives and the world. They can also close down conversations and the wrong questions can create harmful situations. Asking the right questions is so important for any media story. Asking them in the right language must be considered as important, especially when reporting about gender diverse and trans people.
Media coverage of issues faced by members of trans communities has grown in the last 10 years, with television shows and news stories beginning to cover the experiences of trans and non-binary people in many different ways. Since long before this, trans and non-binary people have been pushing for the use of more inclusive and accurate language. Despite the advocacy for inclusive language, and availability of resources for education, many stories we see in mainstream media still present the experiences of trans and non-binary people in incorrect, disrespectful or offensive ways. Often, this issue arises because the storyteller is a cisgender person who has not made the effort to ‘unlearn’ and ‘learn’. While language evolves and changes, the recognition of trans and non-binary people as regular people is also often not considered when a story is conceived and approached. This leads to a one-dimensional approach that assumes that a trans politician or a non-binary singer will only want to discuss their experiences growing up or their “coming out” story, when instead that individual may want to discuss their political platform in terms of budget cuts or what their music is all about. There are so many topics that trans and non-binary people can speak to that do not necessarily cover their “coming out” story, but instead see them as a person with a wide range of thoughts, experiences, and opinions.
Providing trans and non-binary people platforms to talk about their experiences beyond transitioning helps show trans and non-binary people as complex and whole people. Ensuring that as a reporter or author, you are asking the right questions in the right way can really help create a positive environment and lead to better journalism. Consider asking all people what language they would like used in reference to them, such as pronouns or physical descriptions. Using open-ended questions will allow you to get the information that you need while allowing you to create more interesting and engaging work.
Here are 3 of our 8 guiding principles that you should consider when covering a story about trans and non-binary people (and really, all people generally):
1. Reflect the language that people use to talk about their own experiences
2. Use the right name and pronoun, and avoid characterizing them as “preferred”
3. Don’t make assumptions – about anyone’s transition, their mental health, their sexual orientation, or anything really.
To help people understand the language that is evolving with more awareness and understanding of our communities, The 519 and Rainbow Health Ontario collaborated to create a media reference guide. The guide and tip sheet is intended to help journalists, bloggers, newscasters, vloggers, writers, and anyone really, understand respectful and accurate language for media coverage that includes trans and non-binary people.
Download the full Media Reference Guide - Discussing trans and gender-diverse people (PDF) here.
Download the Media Tip Sheet (PDF) here.
[Edited] Original article contributed by Jacq Hixson Vulpe - Senior Consultant, Special Projects
Manager, Communications & Fund Development
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Education and Training Contact
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