Covering the Transgender Community

By Frost, Sandy | The Quill, January/February 2012 | Go to article overview

Covering the Transgender Community


Frost, Sandy, The Quill


MY SON RAY is a transgender person. As a journalist and mother, I've realized that many media outlets don't know how to cover this community. Sometimes reporters are afraid to ask questions or don't even bother to get to know the transgender community that exists in their city.

The term "transgender" made headlines when Chaz Bono was chosen to participate in the popular TV show "Dancing With the Stars." The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation even put out a media guide for journalists on how to cover the Bono story. GLAAD wanted to make sure that reporters got it right. (See the guide at tinyurl. com/GLAAD-BonoGuide.)

FINDING STORIES IN THE TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY

I recently attended a Trans Justice Healthcare Summit in Portland, Ore., sponsored by Basic Rights Oregon. I was there to support my son, who was participating in the Advocating Your Employer or Municipality panel. The program focused on how Multnomah County and the city of Portland were taking steps to provide transgender health care benefits.

These are stories about the transgender community that we as reporters should be reporting. Municipalities and corporations in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle are making headlines as they comply with health care, employment and civil rights laws by providing health care benefits, including "sex assignment" surgery, to transgender employees and their families. But what are your communities doing for transgender individuals? What are the big companies doing when it comes to health care? Or, what are they not doing? These are the stories that need to be told.

WHAT DOES TRANSGENDER MEAN?

Here's how GLAAD has broken down the terminology in its Media Reference Guide (see the full guide at glaad.org/ files/MediaReferenceGuide2010.pdf):

Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression or behavior differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.

Transition is altering ones birth sex. It is a complex multi-step process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition includes some or ail of the following personal, legal and medical adjustments: telling one's family friends and/or co-workers; changing ones name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) one or more forms of surgery.

Sex Reassignment Surgery refers to surgical alteration, and is only one small part of transition. Preferred term to "sex change operation. " Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have SRS. Journalists should avoid overemphasizing the role of SRS in the transition process.

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