In July of last year, trans advocate and aspiring actress Kara Hays shared with the Daily Mail her experiences growing up and coming out as a trans woman in the southern Bible Belt. She spoke passionately about the lack of acceptance she encountered in her small, conservative high school and her difficult path to acceptance with her parents. During the interview Hays briefly mentioned that her idol and inspiration was pop singer Britney Spears, whose strength helped her through depression and difficult times.
A year later, Hays has now come forward to say that her story was grossly misrepresented by the Daily Mail, MSN, and other media organizations whose articles written about her focused only on her transition-related surgeries and their monetary cost, as well as her "obsession" with Britney's appearance. These tabloid-esque articles overlooked the truth—that she was, in fact, a courageous woman for sharing her story and speaking out for the trans and LGBT community in general.
At the time, many news organizations, including the Huffington Post, stated that Hays' purpose in undergoing multiple surgeries was to 'look like Britney Spears.' Now, a full year later, HuffPost has issued a follow-up article with clarification from Hays herself.
Regarding the effect that the sensational reporting has had on her life, Hays states that "the story really hurt [her] reputation and…sent the community so many steps back." While she originally intended to represent the trans community and show support by coming out in the media, Hays has come to the realization that "being trans in the media is a very tricky thing…it's a double-edged sword because you're put under a microscope once again. The media usually only wants to focus on… the two S's: sexuality and surgery. And that's it. So we're not seen as being human beings."
GLAAD has been working with various media outlets to call for greater responsibility when reporting on trans people and issues are represented. Rather than asking invasive questions in the so-called "human interest"–for example, the cost of any particular surgery or other questions irrelevant to the proper telling of the story–writers should strive to meet higher journalistic standards. Unless openly volunteered by the trans individual during the interview process, figures in the media should not solicit pre-transition materials such as photographs taken in early childhood or a trans individual's birth name. Above all else, news organizations must hold themselves accountable for the quality of the trans-related content they produce. Sensational trans narratives in the media have always been a serious problem, with trans peoples' stories trivialized, sexualized, or otherwise exploited for the sake of selling a story. GLAAD will continue working with Kara Hays in promoting quality representations of trans people that affirm trans individuals' experiences and inform the public.
If you see defamatory media coverage of transgender people, please report the incident to www.glaad.org/reportdefamation.