Tomorrow night ABC’s Diane Sawyer will interview Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner. Many media outlets are speculating that Jenner will discuss being transgender. To help the media understand how to fairly and accurately report on transgender issues, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) has issued a statement including guidelines and a link to their style guide and resources. I am sharing that information below, but before I do, I want to share my own thoughts on the subject.
An estimated 2 to 5 percent of Americans are transgender. I think it is because of this small number that so few people understand what it means to be transgender or what issues they face including discrimination, ridicule and bullying. In TV and movies, transgender men and women are often unfairly portrayed, drawing undue attention to their differences rather than treating them like human beings. Fortunately, these attitudes are starting to change, but not quickly enough.
I don’t know what news Jenner will share tomorrow evening, nor do I feel it is any of my business, but it is news and millions of Americans will be talking about it. I encourage everyone – especially those who report the story – to be compassionate and to remember that Jenner is a human being with feelings and a family. Jenner is dealing with something most of us can’t begin to imagine.
From the NLGJA:
The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) is made up of working journalists and media professionals. We are not an advocacy group. Our mission is to ensure fair and accurate coverage of issues that affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.
This week, ABC News will air an interview With Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star Bruce Jenner. It is widely believed that Jenner will talk about being transgender. For many transgender people this will be a historic moment. Many newsrooms have questions about how to cover people who are or may be transgender. NLGJA is here to help you ensure your coverage is not only fair, but accurate.
Here are a few tips, as well as some information from our stylebook on how to handle things such as pronouns and terminology. There’s even more on our website, NLGJA.org.
- Since Jenner has not publicly announced a gender identity, the best practice is to refer to Bruce Jenner by name rather than using pronouns.
Example: “Olympic Champion Bruce Jenner is set to sit down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer amid reports that Jenner is transgender.”
- Transgender people should be referred to by the name and gender with which they identify. Some transgender people choose to take hormones or have medical procedures, but that’s not what determines the right name and pronoun to use. It is stating one’s gender identity that is what should guide word use. If and when Jenner expresses a different gender pronoun or name, that’s the one to use.
- One of the things that makes this story unique is the amount of attention and speculation prior to Jenner speaking publicly about gender. While it may be impossible to write about Jenner without addressing the current rumors, in general best practice is to allow individuals to address their gender or sexuality when they are ready.
Many news organizations are covering this story well. We’ve included an example of fair and accurate coverage below.
Words matter when telling a story. Research has shown that LGBT teens and young adults have one of the highest rates of all suicide attempts. Depression and drug use among LGBT people have both been shown to increase significantly after new laws that discriminate are passed. Bullying of LGBT youth has been shown to be a contributing factor in many suicides, even if not all of the attacks have been specifically aimed at someone based on sexual orientation or gender bias. Transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed — and four times as likely if they’re a trans woman of color. Lesbians and gays outnumber trans people six to one, yet transgender people are 50 percent more likely to be murdered.
NLGJA is happy to be a professional resource for you. We offer a stylebook on common word choice and tipsheets on issues that affect our communities. You can find both at nlgja.org/resources. NLGJA also has professional development available through our Newsroom Outreach Program. The project was designed to help newsrooms better understand the complexities of covering our diverse communities, while remaining unbiased. Please feel free to contact us if we can be of assistance. We have members in local, national and international newsrooms who are experienced covering these types of issues.
Thank you for your time and attention.
The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association