Covering transgender people in the press is not an issue of political correctness

How can newsrooms better cover trans people and integrate trans journalists on an equal footing? Read our latest story.


On February 25, Marvia Malik, Pakistan’s first transgender news anchor for Kohenoor TV, survived an ambush by two gunmen while returning to her Lahore home after having previously received death threats from unknown individuals. In the same month, The New York Times found itself caught in a turmoil after nearly a thousand Times contributors, some of whom identified as trans, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming, publicly condemned the newspaper’s approach to coverage of trans people. This issue sparked a series of heated exchanges involving Times leaders, journalists, contributors and the New York Times Guild that are still ongoing today. 

These two stories underline the many complexities and difficulties of being a trans journalist, as well as covering issues concerning trans people and the challenges facing unions in addressing bias in coverage and discrimination at work.

Reporting accurately on trans identities : an issue of representation and journalism ethics

Words matter. While the acronym LGBTQI+ is commonly used in news reporting, few journalists indulge in explaining what the acronym actually means and in particular, what “transgender” implies. According to MEAA’s guidelines for reporting on LGBTQIA+ issues, transgender people are those “whose gender is different to the gender that they were assigned at birth”. Failing to cover trans identities in the appropriate way misleads the public's perception of transgender people in society. It is the quality of information and the integrity of the journalist that are at stake. As highlighted in the National Union of Journalists (NUJ)’s guidelines on reporting on LGBT+ issues “This is not an issue of political correctness. Rather, it is about the need to relate personal stories in ways that are clear and unambiguous, and reflect as far as possible the prevailing social consensus”. 

Avoiding cliches and integrating trans identity in a context rather than as a theme also makes a difference. “There needs to be a real focus on journalistic ethics. The topic of trans people is often hijacked by editorial writers, which encourages the proliferation of transphobic discourse”, French trans journalist and member of the Association of LGBT Journalists (AJL) Elin Casse told the IFJ.

One way for the media to improve trans people’s coverage is by providing guidance to their staff and reflecting on their editorial line. Several journalists unions have published guidelines and toolkits. The  Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) in Australia, the NUJ in the UK or the Federação Nacional dos Jornalistas (FENAJ) in Brazil have all taken clear steps to improve the coverage of LGBTQI+ people and trans people in particular. Their guidelines, aimed at media workers in particular, highlight especially the need to use appropriate language, including correct pronouns and not misgendering the person intentionally. Another important takeaway is not to use the “deadname” of the person, meaning their name given at birth. A person's transgender status should also only be mentioned in journalistic reporting if it is relevant to the story, the unions recommend. Similarly, a journalist should not investigate a transgender person’s personal life just because they have declared themselves to be transgender. These guidelines also insist on not mentioning trans people’s gender assigned at birth if it has nothing to do with the story. 

Improving trans journalists’ conditions at work : what can be done?

The role human resources can play in making trans journalists feel fully part of the staff is pivotal, while many have denounced their isolation in newsrooms. 

Enhancing working conditions of trans journalists has been at the heart of some of IFJ affiliates' work. E tū in New Zealand, along with other unions, helped fund the creation of a diversity kit for the workplace. The goal is to help workers understand the issues that LGBTQI+ members face, while also implementing other measures to make trans people feel more welcome. Karena Brown, research Officer for E tū and staff representative responsible for the [email protected] Network explains : “Often, our LGBTQI+ members are quite hidden in the workforce because they don’t feel safe in their workplaces. Bullying and harassment are the main issues, but there is also the language people use that makes them feel unsafe.” One way of fighting against this is by encouraging the staff to use personal pronouns in their daily communications so that people know that it is a safe place to be in. These initiatives are more than welcomed by some trans journalists. “The implementation of an editorial charter for trans-identity (and more generally LGBTI) issues, mechanically improves the experience of the journalists concerned vis-à-vis their colleagues”, Elin Casse adds. 

Making unions a safe space and joining other unions’ initiatives are important steps to get it right. The NUJ and its LGBTQI+ delegation, took part in  the British Trade Union Congress (TUC)’s campaign to advance trans workers rights in the workplace, highlighting the importance for trans people to join a union that protects their rights in their working environment. 

Many initiatives have also been carried out directly by trans journalists themselves to advance their rights and improve  their working conditions in newsrooms. This is the case in France, with the launch of XY Media. The “transfeminist” online community-based media aims at highlighting the voices of trans journalists in the country, while addressing issues that are not necessarily mentioned in traditional media. Elin Casse, also a former contributor of XY Media explains that working in a trans-dominated newsroom “was above all a great psychological rest”, adding that “a transfeminist newsroom allows for a more original and deeper approach to trans-identity issues, which is much more professionally satisfying.”

Other organisations such as the Transgender Journalists Association (TJA) have emerged in recent years to show the importance of representation not only in the media but in newsrooms as well, while also showing the need for trans journalists to organise themselves.

IFJ PresidentDominique Pradalie said: “The IFJ’s Global Charter of Ethics highlights the importance for journalists to avoid the spread of discrimination including on the basis of gender. It is key for us, as journalists unions, to remember this. On International Transgender Day of Visibility, 31 March, we remind the media of their obligations towards ethics and the need to reflect on how they portray society in all its variety.”

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries

Follow the IFJ on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Subscribe to IFJ News