Trans, non-binary, and gender expansive journalists are invited to a virtual coffee chat with the Trans Journalists Association and Pulitzer Center senior editor Boyoung Lim to learn about Pulitzer Center grant opportunities and tips on how to craft a successful pitch to help fund your dream project. Register here.
On Wednesday, July 12, 2023, the Pulitzer Center and the Trans Journalists Association hosted a webinar to discuss best practices for reporting on transgender communities and issues. 2020 & 2021 Reporting Fellow Kallie Cox moderated a discussion with Gina Chua of Semafor, Kate Sosin of The 19th, and Graph Massara, editor of the Trans Journalists Association's style guide.
“I feel like the running theme you're going to hear in this session a lot is to apply the best practices you would to anything else,” Massara said. “There are some specifics or concerns to keep in mind, but ultimately a lot of them only come up because people who haven't covered this community before are hesitant and might have more questions than normal.”
Panelists discussed common mistakes that they see journalists and editors making as they cover the trans community. They advised on prioritizing the framing of stories and considering whose voices and experiences are being centered in the early stages of reporting.
“I think one of the issues that I find with trans coverage is frankly an issue that suffuses a lot of other coverage as well,” Chua said. “Which is the notion of normality. And what is normal, right? The problem is that for all of us, we all have different normals. Kate's got a different normal from me and Graph has a different normal from me.
"News is defined as what is out of the ordinary, what is abnormal. And so we tend to look at things that are abnormal to us as stories without necessarily considering whether they are abnormal to other people, or that something that's normal for us is abnormal to other people.”
With today’s media continuously focusing on stories around trans children, puberty blockers, sports, and anti-trans legislation, panelists shared ideas for how to report on trans communities in other ways. Their advice included getting out of the newsroom and asking trans communities what issues they want to see covered, and prioritizing trans voices in all beats, especially in stories not centered around their transness.
“A lot of people have asked for stories about trans joy and that's supposed to be, I think, what balances [coverage on puberty and sports] out,” Sosin said. “And I agree, but I think there's something in between, which is just trans people who don't have to be joyful, or sad. Just stories about trans people existing, who don’t either have to be fighting a fight or living their best lives.”
Black trans people are increasingly at the center of violence and persecution in the United States. Audience members asked panelists for advice on reporting at the intersection of race and gender.
“You can't report on transitions without reporting on race; they're intrinsically tied,” Sosin said. “Transphobia is really born out of racism. I think that white supremacy is really the driver of so much transphobia in that we prioritize a specific type of body. It all comes from the same place of needing to perform gender in a certain way and needing to perform race in a certain way and… it's critical to hold those two things together every time that we're reporting.”
Panelists highlighted the disparity of the number of trans journalists who are employed full-time in newsrooms, discussing discrimination and unconscious bias in hiring practices. TJA has nearly 700 trans and non-binary members, a majority of whom are freelancers at the moment.
“Speaking for myself, I didn't really want to do the trans beats; certainly that wasn't my vocational interest when I first got into journalism,” Massara said. “A lot of us, if we're the only trans person in our newsroom, feel like if I don't do it, it's not gonna get done, or it's gonna get done poorly. Some of this is having.. the cis majority in the newsroom get more comfortable covering trans issues. [It] will make it a bit less of a burden on the trans people you hire to have to cover that themselves. They'll be able to expand their journalistic repertoire in the same way that cis journalists get to.”
Panelists also shared advice for journalists to prioritize their safety, including resources to protect passwords and minimize personal information found online, as well as prioritizing their privacy in their social media presences. Prioritizing mental health was stressed, as well as newsrooms’ responsibility in providing support to their reporters. See below for related resources on online safety, as well as recommendations on examples of strong reporting from the panelists.
Read more from the panelists:
- Kate Sosin
- Graph Massara
- Gina Chua
- Kallie Cox
Can any of you cite particularly good stories or approaches you've seen—model journalism? - Asked by an audience member
“I often point people to The 19th, NBC Out, Prism for broad news coverage, as well as smaller publications like QNotes and Scalawag. In general, I recommend finding individual trans journalists and following their work,” Sosin said.
- Washington Post-KFF Trans in America Survey
- What's So Scary About a Transgender Child? Vox
- 'We Are More Visible Now Than Ever': 6 Stories of Living Transgender in Tumultuous Times San Francisco Chronicle
- PEN America Online Harassment Field Manual
- Paid online data removal and privacy website (recommended by Kate Sosin)
- Free sites where you can delete your personal information (recommended by an audience member)