The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) is made up of working journalists and media professionals. We are not an advocacy group. Our mission is to ensure fair and accurate coverage of issues that affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.
Recent coverage of Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star Bruce Jenner has raised questions in many newsrooms about how to cover people who may be transgender. This is just the kind of coverage we are here to help with. Here are a few tips to help, as well as some information from our stylebook on how to handle things like pronouns and terminology. There’s even more on our website, NLGJA.org.
1) Since Jenner has not publicly announced a gender identity, the best practice is to refer to Bruce Jenner by name rather than using pronouns.
Example: “Olympic Champion Bruce Jenner is set to sit down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer amid reports that Jenner is transgender.”
2) Transgender people should be referred to by the name and gender with which they identify. Some transgender people choose to take hormones or have medical procedures, but that’s not what determines the right name and pronoun to use. It is stating one’s gender identity that is what should guide word use. If and when Jenner expresses a different gender pronoun or name, that’s the one to use.
3) One of the things that makes this story unique is the amount of attention and speculation prior to Jenner speaking publicly about gender. While it may be impossible to write about Jenner without addressing the current rumors, in general best practice is to allow individuals to address their gender or sexuality when they are ready.
Many news organizations are covering this story well. We’ve included some examples of fair and accurate coverage below.
Words matter when telling a story. 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 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 aimed at someone based on sexual orientation or gender bias. Transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed — and four times as likely if they’re a trans woman of color. Lesbians and gays outnumber trans people six to one, yet transgender people are 50 percent more likely to be murdered.
NLGJA is happy to be a professional resource for you. We offer a stylebook on common word choice and tipsheets on issues that affect our communities. You can find both at nlgja.org/resources. NLGJA also has professional development available through our Newsroom Outreach Program. The project was designed to help newsrooms better understand the complexities of covering our diverse communities, while remaining unbiased. Please feel free to contact us if we can be of assistance. We have members in local, national and international newsrooms who are experienced covering these types of issues.
Thank you for your time and attention.
The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association
Here are some things from the NLGJA Stylebook that you might find particularly useful going forward:
If a source shares transgender or gender-nonconforming identity, it is best practice to ask for preferred pronouns. Be cautious that a person’s pronouns may not correspond with the gender that may be associated with one’s name or appearance. Also, do not assume transgender status or include it if it is not germane to the story.
When writing about events prior to when the person began living publicly as a different gender, NLGJA recommends avoiding a mix of different pronouns within a story by using the person’s first name at the time, using the last name as appropriate, or using a structure is clear about the timeline but avoids the need to reference the name.
Example: “Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley, came out as transgender last week. In a statement, Manning said she had felt this way since childhood. Manning grew up in Oklahoma. In middle school, Manning was very outspoken in class about government issues and religious beliefs, friends said. She continues to be outspoken about her beliefs.”
Some transgender people prefer “they” as a singular pronoun or non-standard pronouns such as “he.” If your outlet’s style rules allow unconventional pronouns, it is acceptable to explain in the story that the source prefers it.
Example: Rory, who uses the pronoun ‘they,’ said they support the bill.”
In many cases, especially those in which the subject’s pronoun preference isn’t known, the story may be more accurate and flow better if pronoun use is avoided rather than risk use of the incorrect one.
Example: “Rory has been involved with the group for three years. ‘This cause has been important to me since high school,’ the teenager said.”
Transgender people identify as the gender that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. A transgender woman was assigned to be male at birth; a transgender man was assigned to be female at birth.
In general, use the name and personal pronouns that are consistent with how the individual lives publicly. When unsure and if possible, ask what the subject prefers.
Only reference transgender status if the person has self-identified as such and it is germane to the story. In instances when it is unclear and impossible to ask what name or pronoun a subject prefers, cite the source of the information (e.g., the police).
Be especially sensitive when covering transgender individuals who have been victims of crime, as to not re-victimize them. When covering violence against transgender individuals, be careful of sensationalizing the crime; avoid describing the victim’s clothing or genital characteristics. Avoid giving the impression that the victim is being deceptive about his or her identity. If police suspect the crime was motivated by anti-transgender bias, state that.
Be particularly sensitive when covering transgender women of color, who are disproportionately affected by anti-transgender hate crimes. If police characterize a victim as “a man in a dress,” make an effort to determine if the victim identified as transgender. If it cannot be determined, be sure to cite who provided information about the victim in your story. If possible, provide context for the reader, who may be unfamiliar with issues faced by transgender people, such as those surrounding legal name changes and lack of anti-discrimination protections.
The NLGJA Stylebook on LGBT Terminology offers advice on many terms often used when reporting on transgender:
An individual’s emotional and psychological sense of having a gender; feeling like a man, woman, both or neither (gender nonconformity). Does not necessarily align with an individual’s sex at birth. See gender nonconforming
Medical diagnosis that identifies the unhappiness people experience when they feel their outward appearance of gender does not align with their mental and emotional state. This diagnosis given to transgender people is often a prerequisite to receive hormones or other transitioning treatments. Gender dysphoria replaces the outdated term “gender identity disorder.” See transgender
The appearance, traits and/or mannerisms an individual presents to communicate their gender identity. Any traits (masculine, feminine, androgynous) can be present in people of any gender or gender expression. Gender expression may or may not match biological sex.
gender identity disorder
Avoid this outdated medical term, which has been replaced by “gender dysphoria.”
When a gender identity or expression does not necessarily conform to the gender binary. Avoid the related academic term “gender variant.”
The process by which transgender people change their physical, sexual characteristics from those associated with their sex at birth. This process occurs over time and may include adopting the aesthetic markers of the new gender; telling one’s family, friends and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and sometimes, but not always, surgery or other body modification procedures. Not synonymous with sexual reassignment. Avoid the outdated term “sex change.” See sex reassignment, transgender
Avoid unless used in academic writing. See gender nonconforming
An individual who intentionally does not conform to predominant binary gender roles or expression. Use only if self-referential or in a quotation where there is a compelling reason. As an adjective, “gender-bending.” See gender nonconforming
Avoid this outdated term. See intersex
People born with sex chromosomes, external genitalia or an internal reproductive system that is not considered standard for either males or females. Parents and physicians usually will determine the sex of the child, resulting in surgery or hormone treatment. Many intersex adults seek an end to this practice. Avoid the outdated term “hermaphrodite.”
Avoid this antiquated term.
See gender transition, sex reassignment
The medical and surgical process by which transgender people change their physical, sexual characteristics to reflect their gender identity. May include surgery and/or hormone therapy. Sexual reassignment surgery can be a part of gender transition but is not necessary. Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have such surgery. Avoid overemphasizing the role of surgery in the transition process. Avoid the outdated term “sex change.”
See gender transition
An umbrella term that refers to some people whose physical, sexual characteristics or their gender expression may not match their gender identity. Some female and male cross-dressers, drag queens or kings, female or male impersonators and intersex individuals may also identify as transgender. Use the name and personal pronouns that are consistent with how the individual lives publicly. When possible, ask which term the source prefers.
Do not use “transgendered.” Offensive when used as a noun. As a noun, use “transgender people,” “transgender man” or “transgender woman.” In cases where space is an issue, such as headlines, using “trans” as a shorthand adjectival form is acceptable.
Transgender people may use a number of terms to describe themselves. For more guidance on transgender terminology and coverage, visit the NLGJA Journalists Toolbox.
See gender transition, intersex, sex reassignment
A person who was assigned female at birth but identifies and/or lives as a man. In statistics, the abbreviation FTM, or female-to-male, may be used. Usually shortened colloquially to trans man, it should be used only when the subject prefers it and when transgender status is germane; otherwise, identify a news subject as a man. See transgender
A person who was assigned male at birth but identifies and/or lives as a woman. In statistics, the abbreviation MTF, or male-to-female, may be used. Usually shortened colloquially to trans woman, it should be used only when the subject prefers it and when transgender status is germane; otherwise, identify a news subject as a woman. See transgender
See gender transition
Fear, hatred or dislike of transgender people, and/or prejudice and discrimination against them by individuals or institutions. May be harbored by gays, lesbians, bisexuals, heterosexuals and transgender people themselves. See transgender, transsexual
Avoid this outdated term in favor of “transgender” and “transgender people” unless a person or community prefers the term; it can carry misleading medical connotations. See transgender, gender transition, sex reassignment
Avoid this antiquated term.
A Native American believed to possess a mixture of masculine and feminine spirits. Some, but not all, identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Should not be used as a blanket term for LGBT Native Americans. Use only when the subject prefers it.
Making A Successful Transition – Members Only Article