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Obama’s Appointment of Transgender Advisor Signals Progress in Policy but Highlights Pitfalls of Some Media Coverage

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President Obama has appointed Amanda Simpson as Senior Technical Advisor to the Department of Commerce, making her the first openly transgender presidential appointee in the U.S.  As national news coverage of her nomination increases, we are seeing reports that run the gamut from full and fair descriptions of her life and work, to defamatory headlines promoting sensationalized conceptions of transgender people.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, where Simpson has served as a board member for the past three years, she brings 30 years of experience working in the aerospace and defense industry, most recently serving as Deputy Director in Advanced Technology Development at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Arizona.

In NCTE’s press release Simpson said:

''I'm truly honored to have received this appointment and am eager and excited about this opportunity that is before me. And at the same time, as one of the first transgender presidential appointees to the federal government, I hope that I will soon be one of hundreds, and that this appointment opens future opportunities for many others.''

Autumn Sandeen provides a thorough commentary on Simpson’s appointment in her blog on Pam’s House Blend.

ABC News.com published a brief but fair article emphasizing that “it was her merits, not gender identity, that got her the Commerce job.”

ABC quoted Simpson discussing the obstacles she may face as she takes on her new position, “I’d rather not be the first, but someone has to be first, or among the first.  I think I’m experienced and very well qualified to deal with anything that might show up because I’ve broken barriers at lots of other places, and I always win people over with who I am and what I can do.”

In contrast to this respectful coverage, other media outlets including the New York Post, and to some degree, the New York Daily News, resorted to problematic headlines.  The Post identified Simpson as “sex-change gal,” and The Daily News unnecessarily publicized her assigned name alongside her chosen name in reporting her appointment. Both outlets also used the problematic phrase, "sex change," and The Post used the defamatory term, "tranny," in a photo caption.  These articles highlight the vital need to continue educating reporters about how to improve their coverage of transgender-related news topics.  In 2008, The American Journalism Review published this overview of the common pitfalls of reporting in this area and how the landscape will hopefully continue to change for the better.

We encourage readers to contact the Post and the Daily News and voice concerns about their coverage of this story:

New York Post Executive Editor: Jesse Angelo, jangelo@nypost.com
New York Daily News: voicers@edit.nydailynews.com.

Please include this link to GLAAD’s Transgender Terminology Guide in your email. Please also ensure that your emails are civil and respectful and do not engage in any kind of name-calling or abusive behavior.

GLAAD will continue our outreach to these news outlets about their problematic coverage.

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