Newsflash! It’s Time We Give Transgender Americans a Voice

There is no doubt that an authoritative, dependable source – straight from the horse’s mouth – is vital both in journalistic writing as well as in capturing and establishing a valid, first-hand perspective; however, often times sourcing out these authentic accounts can be difficult – especially if a news organization does not even go so far as to consider them in the first place.

Research #4 deals with the problematic coverage of transgender Americans that mainstream, news media is frequently guilty of. The main source utilized for research #4 is am op-ed critique written by Elizabeth Jensen for NPR titled, “Lots Of Transgender Stories; Not As Many Transgender Voices” and a GLAAD report calling for increased and accurate media coverage, specifically of transgender murders.

Jensen does a great job at analyzing NPR’s coverage of issues related to transgender people highlighting that: “Of the 43 stories we found in the archives through yesterday that dealt with the issue since HB2 was signed, just nine (four of those after the listener wrote) included someone who openly identified themself to NPR as transgender. Looked at another way, out of 91 total guests, just 11 spoke from the perspective of being transgender,” (Jensen). As Jensen says, herself, that is simply not enough.

Imagine if a political debate regarding the subject of Black Lives Matter were broadcasted with zero black representation, the same idea applies to transgender people.

Mainstream, news media consistently forgets to consider transgender individuals. Even in their most sincere stories related to transgender rights and issues, there is either no amount [or an insufficient amount] of actual transgender people given access to publically broadcasted discourses on topics related to their tribulations. Imagine if a political debate regarding the subject of Black Lives Matter were broadcasted with zero black representation, the same idea applies to transgender people. It does not matter how thoughtful or empathetic a news desk’s approach to the experiences of transgender Americans is, people who are not transgender simply cannot speak to the full extent of those individual experiences.

Regardless of intention, the impact that news organizations have when they mishandle coverage of transgender Americans is serious and bears dangerous consequences. Abby Jensen, a ‘a transgender woman, attorney, activist and vice president and general counsel of the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance’ wrote to NPR after a particular story involving the HB2 bathroom legislation to say that: “‘In fact, what we want is the right to use the restrooms and other facilities that match our gender identity, just as all non-transgender people are allowed to do; in other words, equal rights, not special rights. (Everyone has a gender identity, just as everyone has a race and a sexual orientation.) By using the word ‘choice,’ NPR feeds into anti-LGBT arguments that being transgender is merely a ‘lifestyle choice,’ and therefore not worthy of respect or consideration,’” (Jensen).  Essentially, FAKE NEWS!

This is just one example in a sea of many poorly covered stories, and it’s worth noting too that NPR is a moderate and balanced news source.

Furthermore, the overall volume of news coverage of transgender Americans is lacking.

These are the transgender people killed in 2017 — all of whom are transgender women of color:

  • Alphonza Watson killed on March 22 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was 38 years old.
  • Jaquarrius Holland killed on February 19 in Monroe, Louisiana (identified as trans on February 28). She was 18 years old.
  • Ciara McElveen killed on February 27 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was 21 years old.
  • Chyna Gibson killed on February 25 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was 31 years old.
  • Keke Collier killed on February 21 in Englewood, Chicago. She was 24 years old.
  • JoJo Striker killed on February 8 in Toledo, Ohio. She was 23 years old.
  • Mesha Caldwell killed on January 4 in Canton, Mississippi. She was 41 years old.
  • Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow killed on January 1 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She was 28 years old.

(Schmider).

According to GLAAD, media reports fail to bring attention to this at-risk community, resort to victim blaming, treatment of the victims as mere statistics, rather than humanizing them and adding, “further insult to injury” regularly misgender the victims that they report on (Schmider).

It is important to cover transgender murders and shed light on the atrocities that transgender Americans – more specifically transgender women of color — are subjected to; however, the way that these murders are covered is incredibly important as well. In an effort to avoid perpetuating the victim narrative of transgender individuals mainstream, news media must be more respectful and careful in its presentation of these individuals and their stories.

Sources:
Jensen, Elizabeth. “Lots Of Transgender Stories; Not As Many TransgenderVoices.” NPR. National Public Radio, 16 May 2016. Web. 2 Apr. 2017.
Schmider, Alex. “GLAAD Calls for Increased and Accurate Media Coverage of Transgender Murders.” Blog post. GLAAD. GLAAD, 22 Feb. 2017. Web. 2 Apr. 2017.
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