Nieman Foundation at Harvard
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Aug. 21, 2019, 11:17 a.m.

How trans journalists are challenging — and changing — journalism

“As we become more visible, trans journalists are asking journalism leaders to confront the structural barriers that make it hard for trans people to enter and remain in the industry.”

Editor’s note: Our friends at sibling publication Nieman Reports released their Summer 2019 issue this morning, which you should check out. The cover package is about the many problems with how journalism reports on domestic violence.

The story below is taken from another piece: a look at the growing role of trans journalists in newsrooms, by Lewis Raven Wallace (who we wrote about in 2017).

Kate Sosin and Nico Lang landed in Anchorage in March 2018 and got into a Lyft to their hotel. The Lyft driver asked what the pair was doing in town.

“I was stupid enough to say, ‘Oh, we’re reporters,’” Sosin recalls. They told the driver they were there to report on Proposition 1, which would have required trans people to use the bathroom or locker room associated with the gender on their birth certificate. Turns out, bringing it up was a mistake.

“He started spouting off all of this transphobic rhetoric about how ‘we’ didn’t want men in women’s bathrooms,” Sosin says. As a trans journalist, Sosin found it a nerve-wracking introduction to Anchorage, where they’d come to report for the week leading up to the city’s historic vote on the measure. These so-called “bathroom bills” are predicated on the myth that trans women are predatory men masquerading as women. Sosin and Lang were both staff writers at Into, the national LGBTQ outlet associated with the gay dating app Grindr, and they pitched the story because they believed Anchorage was a bellwether.

Sosin says their editor at Into was affirming and supportive, quickly agreeing to assign multiple features on the topic. Sosin and Lang produced in-depth coverage on the lead-up to the vote and the outcome, both during and after their trip to Alaska.

Sosin’s trans identity often made it easier to connect with sources and to tell stories that were deeply reported and empathetic.

“They found all these different access points for people reading this story,” says former Into managing editor Trish Bendix, who is a cis queer woman. “There’s a way to make these stories, like any story, find some central human interest point, and I think that Kate can balance that with making sure that it’s still very centered on trans people and trans issues.”

For example, an article about community organizers coming together against Proposition 1 included drag kings, leather daddies, and climate change activists who brought an anti-Proposition 1 banner to the Iditarod, the annual long-distance sled dog race. Sosin and Lang focus on trans people while including the stories of straight and gay allies, who all rallied together to defeat the ballot measure.

Transgender journalists in the United States are a small but growing group. As we become more visible, trans journalists are asking journalism leaders to confront the structural barriers that make it hard for trans people, particularly trans people of color, to enter and remain in the industry. We are also pushing cisgender editors to be more cautious and accountable in their coverage of gender issues. Still, there are very few trans people in leadership positions, a reflection of the many obstacles trans journalists still face.

Lewis Raven Wallace is a contributing editor at Scalawag magazine, and the writer and creator of The View from Somewhere: Undoing the Myth of Journalistic Objectivity, a forthcoming book and podcast about the history of objectivity and justice in journalism.

Illustration by Joey Guidone.

POSTED     Aug. 21, 2019, 11:17 a.m.
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