It takes the old adage “add insult to injury” to a new level. Local leaders in the trans community are angry at reporters at Detroit’s two major newspapers – The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press – for incorrectly identifying murdered teen Michelle Moore.
In an un-bylined piece in the Nov. 7 edition of The Detroit News, Moore was identified in the headline as a “transgender man.” She was, in fact, a transgender woman. Subsequent stories in both the News and Free Press included – and referred to Moore by – her birth name and frequently used male pronouns to describe her.
“They should have used feminine pronouns because she identified as a women,” said Michelle Fox-Phillips, executive director of Transgender Detroit. “If they wanted to use the word ‘transgender’ that’s fine. But they should have used ‘transgender female.'”
The Associated Press Style Book – or reporter’s Bible – backs Fox-Phillips up on this. In 2006, the Style Book, which up until then only included an entry titled “transsexual” that simply read “see sex changes,” inserted a new “transgender” entry. It instructs that reporters “use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics (by hormone therapy, body modification, or surgery) of the opposite sex and present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.”
Papers across the country, however, have not all caught up on the AP’s new standard, or simply opted not to follow it.
“It happens all the time and it really pisses me off,” said Rachel Crandall, executive director of Transgender Michigan. ”
Between The Lines Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Susan Horowitz said she doesn’t understand why local mainstream media does not reach out to her if they have questions on the subject.
“They certainly know we’re here and we exist and how to contact us,” she said. “I’d be happy to share with them how to appropriately and respectfully cover these issues, or refer them to people in the trans community who can help.”
So why do these errors keep happening?
“One reason is probably ignorance,” said Fox-Phillips. “Another is because they’re probably lazy. I think it’s just laziness and ignorance and sometimes it might be just malicious.”
Crandall said that she and her agency are available to offer training to local reporters, but she doesn’t believe they’d be receptive.
“They’re not willing to invest even a few minutes [to get this right] and that really makes me angry.”