Thanks to a "worst" mention in GLAAD's latest "Best & Worst of National News," and coverage of the mention at the Bilerico Project, a problematic news story has been changed on the website of WTHR, a local NBC affiliate.
Near the end of December, 2008, a transgender woman, Taysia Elzy, and her partner, Michael Hunt, were found murdered in their Indianapolis home. Local news media began to identify the Elzy by her male name. They also used male pronouns. GLAAD and local advocates, including Bil Browning of The Bilerico Project, reached out to reporters to talk with them about how to report on transgender people in a fair and accurate way.
The Indianapolis Star took the most proactive approach in their coverage. Both The Bilerico Project and GLAAD were able to speak with one of their news reporters, Francesca Jarosz, who made sure to use appropriate terminology when referring to Elzy.
Local station WTHR-TV was another story. Their news reporter Steve Jefferson referred to Elzy as a man in his news story, and was unwilling to use terminology resources provided by GLAAD, which included GLAAD's Media Reference Guide, which lists the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook's section on transgender issues:
Transgender: Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.
If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.
After receiving an e-mail back from Jefferson, it was clear he was not interested in changing his story to adhere to AP guidelines. (He said he did not use female pronouns because he said the transgender victim “was NOT post-op.” )
Thanks to all of those who took action after seeing our "Best & Worst" on glaad.org, Bilerico, and many other blogs. Check out the change it's making on the media landscape in Indiana via Bilerico's Update:
UPDATE: I spoke with Carolyn Williams, the News Director for WTHR. The offensive article has been edited to conform with the AP Style Guide. Ms. Williams will also be speaking with her Station Manager about coordinating a diversity training session on LGBT issues with all area television stations.
Ms. Williams was very kind and understanding. E-mailing Ms. Williams with kudos for her prompt response and leadership would be more appropriate at this point!
For those interested in thanking Williams: CWilliams@WTHR.com
It's exciting to see media professionals take the time out to ensure that stories about transgender people are fair and accurate! In a time when GLAAD still has enough "worst" stories to publish a "Best & Worst of National News" every month, it's a big step to see a major news station make a change like this.
The next time you see a problematic story about the LGBT community, reach out! Let us know here at GLAAD by filling out a quick Incident Report on glaad.org and write to the media professionals involved letting them know how you feel! And if you see a great story, let us know, and thank the reporter as well!