Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
Michigan has had growing reports of violence against transgender individuals and news stories of prostitution arrests that are over-dramatized because the suspects were transgender. The increased coverage has both trans people and journalists questioning what is appropriate and what isn’t in the media.
The most recent example was the May 29 arrest of two sex workers at the Motorama Motel in Ferndale. Police identified the suspects as Artel Lavontre Martin 19, and William Rodney Patterson 28, both of Detroit and they referred to them as men even though they were living as women.
When Ferndale Police came to Transgender Day of Empowerment in April, Officer Jason Colette explained that suspects are booked according to their name and gender marker on their state-issued ID. Press releases are also based on how a prisoner is classified by the state.
And when the press gets hold of these stories they are often eager to play up the novelty of a “man dressed in woman’s clothing,” when in reality, in their day to day life, they are living and interacting with the world as transgender women – or as Michelle Fox-Phillips calls them, women.
“My question is why did she have to mention that were trans and not just two women?” said Fox-Phillips, who is the founder of Transgender Detroit said.
GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, provides guidelines for reporters covering the LGBT community. “GLAAD advises journalists to report about individuals as they themselves identify or identified. It’s just not accurate to force an identity on anyone — period,” said Seth Adam senior manager of communications at GLAAD in New York.
“Far too often, media misreport a person’s gender, using incorrect pronouns and/or an individual’s birth name,” Adam said. “Sadly, most instances occur when reporters are covering anti-transgender hate violence, usually citing police reports that also mis-describe a person’s lived identity. Typically, we find that these sorts of errors are due to a lack of education with regard to transgender terminology (as well as erroneous police reports), and GLAAD works with journalists to not only correct such errors, but also to better inform media about how to more accurately cover the lives of transgender people.
“Recently, The New York Times published an incredibly exploitative story about the tragic death of Lorena Escalera, a local transgender woman. GLAAD challenged the NYT, who admitted that the paper should have “shown more care in (its) choice of words.” GLAAD worked with several local transgender advocates, such as People.com editor Janet Mock, to honor Lorena’s life and highlight the staggering rates of discrimination still facing transgender Americans today.”
GLAAD’s intervention doesn’t end with the national stories. Reporter Cathy Kavanaugh of The Daily Tribune in Royal Oak also got a call after covering the Ferndale prostitution arrests.
Kavanaugh, who has been a reporter since 1987, never had any mention of the LGBT community in her journalism classes. “I actually got it wrong at first,” she said in regard to her May 31 coverage of the arrests. “I believe I had two men in the headline and first paragraph of my original posting. Then I heard from reps of a group called GLAAD. They told me the suspects should be identified as transgender women.
“I really appreciated the clarification and our brief conversation helped me sort through the confusion of having mug shots from police of beautiful women with the names of, I believe, Artel and Rodney. The GLAAD reps also said they would have asked me to change all pronouns in the story from he to she. However, that wasn’t an issue because I described them as suspects, defendants or “the pair” in my story, in part to write around not knowing what pronoun to use. I will keep that in mind for future stories. I didn’t accommodate their third request, which was to call police and find out the female names the suspects use because they are going through the courts under their original names. On that point I did change some wording in my story and attributed their names to police.”
Kavanaugh’s corrected article not only accurately identifies the suspects as transgender women; it goes a step further to explain what that means. The paragraph reads, “The male-to-female transgender suspects were in the room. Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.”
“I’m not sure why other reporters didn’t offer a sentence or two to explain what transgender means,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s probably a combination of ignorance and time constraints. I think news staffs are so thin nowadays there isn’t as much time to spend on one story or round out press releases like we used to do. I was juggling three stories that day with this Ferndale case, a Royal Oak house fire and an Oak Park business winning a national award.”
Although there are constraints on time and resources for local media like The Tribune, Kavanaugh took the time to make the corrections. She acknowledged GLAAD as a trusted source for media information on how to cover transgender topics.
“The GLAAD Media Reference Guide answers common questions and pitfalls that arise when covering the LGBT community. I would point reporters to pages 8-11 to learn more about transgender people,” she said.
Members of the general public who want to end incorrect or disingenuous transgender coverage in the media can get involved as well. “I leave comments on stories or I email the writers when I see stories that I disagree with,” Fox-Phillips said. “We need to speak up or things won’t get any better.”
Find out more about GLAAD and their suggested guidelines at www.glaad.org.