Tip sheet for journalists covering "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson"


Please consider the following guidelines when writing about the documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, premiering October 6, 2017 on Netflix. The film makes extensive use of historic footage that includes archaic terminology and language that is no longer considered accurate or respectful when writing about transgender people. This style guide will help you create stories that avoid using language that is outdated and now considered offensive.

DO describe Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Victoria Cruz, and the other transgender women in the film as transgender women.

DON'T refer to them using the archaic language you hear in the historical footage. Do not describe them as drag queens, female impersonators, transvestites, transsexuals, etc.

DO use transgender as an adjective: "Marsha P. Johnson is a transgender woman." "Victoria Cruz is an advocate for the transgender community."

DON'T use transgender as a noun: "Marsha P. Johnson is a transgender."

DON'T use "transgendered" – transgender never needs an "ed" at the end.

DO refer to the women in the film with the names they chose for themselves, (Marsha, Sylvia, Victoria, Kitty, etc.)

DON'T refer to them with their birth names. Transgender people should be accorded the same respect received by anyone who has changed their name.

DO use female pronouns (she, her, hers) when referring to the transgender women in the film.

DON'T use male pronouns to refer to them.

DO refer to the gender identity of the transgender women, not their sexual orientation. Gender identity is one's own internal, deeply held sense of being male or female (or perhaps something other than those two terms.) Sexual orientation is who one is attracted to. They are not the same thing and should not be conflated or confused. The transgender women in the film are living as women because of their gender identity – not because of their sexual orientation.

AVOID the phrase "born a man" when referring to transgender women in the film. If it is necessary to describe for your audience what it means to be transgender, consider: "Marsha P. Johnson was assigned male at birth, but at a very young age, she began living as her authentic self."

DON'T speculate about medical procedures transgender people may or may not choose to undertake as part of their transition. A transgender identity is not dependent on medical procedures. Overemphasizing the medical aspects of a person's transition objectifies transgender people, and prevents the public from seeing the transgender person as a whole person.

DON'T indulge in superficial critiques of a transgender person's femininity or masculinity. Commenting on how well a transgender person conforms to conventional standards of femininity or masculinity is reductive and insulting.

NOTE: STAR, the organization founded in 1970 by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, was originally an acronym for "Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries." They used language that was current at that time. However, later the name was changed to "Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries."

For a more extensive Reference Guide on covering transgender issues, please visit glaad.org/reference/transgender. For additional resources visit glaad.org/transgender.

About GLAAD: GLAAD amplifies the voice of the LGBT community by empowering real people to share their stories, holding the media accountable for the words and images they present, and helping grassroots organizations communicate effectively. By ensuring that the stories of LGBT people are heard through the media, GLAAD promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality.