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Private Chelsea Manning's story is a wakeup call for national news coverage of transgender people

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Today GLAAD and over 40 organizations call on journalists to improve their coverage of transgender people following Private Chelsea Manning's statement that she is female and using the name Chelsea and female pronouns. The immediate news coverage, as well as the follow up analysis, brought into sharp focus the national news media's frequently inaccurate and uninformed coverage of transgender people.

Why is this important?

Manning's story is an opportunity to set a precedent on how to report fairly and accurately on all transgender people. The next time there is a high profile transgender person who is elected to national office, who wins the Nobel Prize for chemistry, who directs a big-budget Hollywood film, who leads a religious denomination, or any other time a transgender person is in the national spotlight, the media needs to get it right. The same is true for stories where transgender people are victims of violence, as the media all too often adds insult to injury by failing to respect the victim's identity. 

Before Private Manning's announcement, national news media largely ignored stories about the violence and discrimation faced by transgender people - particularly transgender women of color. Within the last month GLAAD has had to work with local news media outlets to correct the names and pronouns of transgender murder victims. Diamond Williams of Philadelphia, Domonique Newburn of Los Angeles, Islan Nettles of New York, and Konyale Madden of Denton, Texas, were consistently disrespected by local news outlets and ignored by national news outlets.

GLAAD has published a style guide for reporters on how to report on transgender victims of crime. Sadly, this guide is needed far too often.

The following statement from GLAAD and over 40 organizations is a call to the news media to learn from the Private Chelsea Manning coverage and do a better job going forward. If your organization wishes to sign onto the statement, please send an email to murray@glaad.org.

 

Journalists: Commit to Fair and Accurate Coverage of Transgender People, including Pvt. Chelsea Manning

The media has a long and poor track record of reporting on transgender people, and the coverage surrounding Private Chelsea Manning has brought that lack of fair and accurate coverage into sharp focus. The coverage that we have seen thus far has relied on stereotypical images, contrived confusion over names and pronouns, and an obsession with surgery. Examples include:

  • USA Today displaying a graphic that outlines several of the surgeries transgender women may elect to undergo, overemphasizing and sensationalizing the role of surgeries in the life of a transgender person.  A transgender identity is not determined by medical procedures.
  • The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, NPR, NBC, Fox News, Reuters, and a host of other outlets wrote articles that outlined the "struggles" that media outlets faced in referring to Private Manning as Chelsea or choosing a pronoun. The Washington Post, Fox News, and CNN still refuse to honor Private Manning's preferred name and pronouns.
  • CNN's Jake Tapper conducted an interview with a close friend of Manning, continually referring to Manning as Bradley, and also referring to his guest as a "gay man" when she is a transgender woman.

The media disrespected and insulted all transgender people by using phrases like "choose to be a girl," and CNN panelist Richard Herman saying that Manning will "get good practice" as a woman in prison. Fox News offensively teased a broadcast segment on Private Manning by playing Aerosmith's "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)."

Transgender people face tremendous levels of discrimination and violence. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), 53% of anti-LGBT homicide victims in 2012 were transgender women - most were transgender women of color. According to the report "Injustice at Every Turn":

  • Transgender people experience unemployment at twice the rate of the general population, with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate. 
  • 90% of transgender people report experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job.
  • 22% of respondents who have interacted with police reported harassment by police, with much higher rates reported by people of color. 
  • Almost half of the respondents (46%) reported being uncomfortable seeking police assistance.
  • 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.

We, the undersigned organizations, call on journalists and media outlets to cover all transgender people with the dignity they deserve as human beings. Private Manning issued a public statement, read by her lawyer, that explicitly and unambiguously stated that she should be referred to as Chelsea and to use female pronouns. The Associated Press and the New York Times have both announced that they will refer to Chelsea as she requested, and other media outlets should do the same.

The Associated Press Style Guide states that when referring to a transgender person, to "Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals." GLAAD's full Media Reference Guide on reporting on transgender people may be found here.

The following are commonly accepted guidelines for covering a transgender person:

  • Always use a transgender person's preferred name.
  • Whenever possible, ask transgender people which pronoun they would like used.  
  • Do not put quotation marks around either a transgender person's preferred name or the pronoun that reflects that person's gender identity.
  • Avoid pronoun confusion when examining the stories and backgrounds of transgender people prior to their transition. In Private Manning's case, she may simply be referred to as Private Manning.

Private Manning's story presents an opportunity for the media to do a better job of telling the story of everyday transgender people who are simply trying to live their lives. The media has an opportunity - and the responsibility - to improve its reporting and accurately reflect the lives of transgender people. 

Bisexual Alliance Victoria in Melbourne Australia 
Black Transmen & Black Transwomen

Campus Pride
Capital City Alliance
Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry
Center of Excellence for Transgender Health
DC Trans Coalition
Equality Louisiana
Equality Matters
Family Equality Council
FORGE
Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
GAYa NUSANTARA
Gender Alliance of the South Sound
Gender Justice League
Gender Justice Nevada
Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey
GLAAD
Global Justice Institute
HBTS Sweden
Human Rights Campaign
Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries
Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project
Louisiana Trans Advocates
LGBT Social Democrats in Stockholm 
Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition
Metropolitan Community Church
Metropolitan Community Church Trans* & GNC Advisory Council
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Rainbow Community Cares
SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders)
SPART*A
SunServe
Sylvia Rivera Law Project
Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition
The Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada
Trans-Fuzja Foundation 
Trans Advocacy Network
Trans Aid Croatia
Trans Media Watch
Trans Saints of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries
Trans Youth Equality Foundation
Trans Youth Support Network
Trans*Action Florida
TransEpiscopal
Transfaith
Transgender Education Network of Texas
Transgender Equality Rights Initiatives
Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth
Transgender Law Center
Transgender Network Switzerland 
Transgender Victoria
TransLutherans
TransOhio
TransYouth Family Allies
Truth Wins Out
United Church of Christ GenderFold Action Alliance

For media/bloggers: read the press release here.

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