The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) encourages journalists writing about Bradley Manning’s plans to live as a woman named Chelsea to be fair and accurate in their coverage.
Manning announced the decision in a written statement provided to NBC's “Today” show, asking supporters to refer to her by her new name and the feminine pronoun. Her statement was signed “Chelsea E. Manning.”
“As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible,” the statement read.
NLGJA recognizes the challenges some newsrooms may face in covering Manning’s transition from male to female.
Here are a couple of guidelines that may help you in your coverage.
- Things that are simple in most stories get tricky when writing about transgender subjects, particularly names and pronouns. As per AP style, one should use the name and pronouns that someone prefers. It’s not about drivers’ licenses or birth certificates. Because of Manning’s name recognition, we suggest that she be referenced as “US Army Private Chelsea Manning, who formerly went by the name Bradley.”
- It is not about surgeries and hormones. If a person wants to talk about these very personal topics, fine, but one’s gender identity and right to be respected aren’t dependent on taking such actions, nor are these necessarily public topics.
- Avoid playing into stereotypes. Not all trans people are seeking to become the archetype of the gender to which they are transitioning. And, at the same time, lots of people who don’t change gender aren’t necessarily the physical epitome of what one thinks of as a man or woman. Avoid subjective assessments of how someone passes.
While the basics on gender transitions are covered in the AP Stylebook, you can find far more in NLGJA's stylebook https://www.nlgja.org/files/NLGJAStylebook0712.pdf.
NLGJA members in print, broadcast, online, international and national newsrooms will be covering this story as well. NLGJA is not an advocacy group, but a group of working journalism professionals dedicated to ensuring fair and accurate coverage of the LGBT community.
Please consider that words matter. Research has shown that LGBT teens and young adults have one of the highest rates of all suicide attempts. Depression and drug use among LGBT people have both been shown to increase significantly after new laws that discriminate against gay people are passed. Bullying of LGBT youth has been shown to be a contributing factor in many suicides, even if not all of the attacks have been specifically addressing sexuality or gender.
NLGJA isn't just for LGBT people. As your colleagues, we are here for all journalists. Please feel free to reach out to our leaders and members for guidance and assistance. NLGJA is currently hosting its National Convention and LGBT Media Summit in Boston, Massachusetts. You can follow the conversation at nlgjaconnect.org.