Metro Weekly

New York Times Blasted for Harmful Transgender Coverage

Two separate letters call out The New York Times for trying to remain "neutral" while elevating anti-transgender voices.

A billboard truck protesting the New York Times’ news coverage of transgender issues. – Photo courtesy of GLAAD.

A coalition of community leaders, journalists, LGBTQ organizations, and celebrities called out The New York Times for its flawed and biased coverage of issues affecting the transgender community, and for spreading misinformation about the topic in order to appeal to conservative readers and influencers.

In an open letter to the influential newspaper’s standards editor Philip Corbett, more than 180 trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming Times contributors, key celebrity allies, and more than 65 member-organizers at the Freelance Solidarity Project (the digital media division of the National Writers Union), decried the paper’s recent coverage of trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people and related issues.

Prominent signatories include trans former Army Private and whistleblower Chelsea Manning, actresses Cynthia Nixon and Angelica Ross, Pennsylvania State Sen. Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia), writers Lucy Sante, Alexander Chee, Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado, Raquel Willis, and Ashley C. Ford, Artforum Editor-in-Chief David Velasco, and actor John Cameron Mitchell.

Noting the trend of legislatures passing laws to ban people under 18 — or in some cases, even people in their 20s — from accessing gender-affirming health care treatments, the signatories to the letter argue that the Times‘ insistence on taking a detached approach to reporting on trans-related issues has consequences, with many policymakers even citing past Times coverage, and repeating misinformation as fact, as justification for their actions.

“In two federal court cases last year, we saw legal briefs cite the Times‘ reporting in order to defend these vile, reactionary, scientifically backwards bans on gender-affirming medical care,” Harron Walker, a freelance journalist and co-author of the letter, said in a statement.

“Not just its opinion pieces, though that happened, as well, but its purportedly objective editorial, too. If the Times‘ reporting on trans issues can so easily be weaponized against trans people, diminishing our bodily autonomy off the page, the unethical bias could not be more clear.”

The coalition also argues that the Times‘ insistence on taking a “neutral” viewpoint on the issue or serving as scribes for right-wing ideologues helps further an ultimate agenda in which no person would be allowed to transition or identify as transgender.

“As anti-trans sentiments, and particularly ‘concerns’ about trans youth, become a rallying point for growing fascist movements worldwide, institutions like The New York Times must deeply consider the role their coverage is playing in advancing this bigotry,” Cecilia Gentili, longtime trans activist and a co-author of the letter, said in a statement. “Pretending there are ‘two sides’ to whether or not trans kids have the right to exist as themselves is providing faux-progressive cover to far-right ideology that is currently steamrolling through state legislatures.

“I join hundreds of fellow opinion contributors and other public figures in demanding the Times reverse this trend and cover trans issues with fairness.”

The letter to Corbett acknowledges that some reporters at the Times cover trans-related issues fairly. But it also alleges that the newspaper has dedicated over 15,000 words of front-page coverage appearing to favor a skeptical view of transgender identity and trans-related issues.

“The newspaper’s editorial guidelines demand that reporters ‘preserve a professional detachment, free of any whiff of bias’ when cultivating their sources, remaining ‘sensitive that personal relationships with news sources can erode into favoritism, in fact or appearance,'” the letter reads. “Yet the Times has in recent years treated gender diversity with an eerily familiar mix of pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language, while publishing reporting on trans children that omits relevant information about its sources.”

The letter was delivered to the Times headquarters on Wednesday morning, February 15. In addition, the coalition’s concerns and demands will be featured on a billboard truck driving around the building housing the newspaper’s operations.

LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, along with more than 100 other LGBTQ or LGBTQ-friendly organizations — including the Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund — and celebrity LGBTQ allies, penned a second, separate letter, worded like a petition, that demands the Times change how it covers trans-related issues.

The signatories advise the paper to stop printing stories that push an anti-transgender agenda, argue that the paper should hold a meeting with transgender community leaders to listen to their concerns about the coverage, and hire at least four trans editors or writers within the next three months.

Notable signatories of the second letter include Ashlee Marie Preston, Gabrielle Union-Wade, Jameela Jamil, Jonathan Van Ness, Judd Apatow, Lena Dunham, Margaret Cho, Peppermint, Shakina, Tommy Dorfman, and Wilson Cruz.

“For those of us who truly treasured the Times‘ coverage for so many years, it is appalling to see how the news and opinion pages are now full of misguided, inaccurate, and disingenuous ‘both sides’ fearmongering and bad faith ‘just asking questions’ coverage,” the second letter reads.

“We won’t stand for the Times platforming lies, bias, fringe theories, and dangerous inaccuracies. We demand fair coverage, we demand that the Times platform trans voices as both sources and full-time writers and editors, and we demand a meeting between Times leadership and the transgender community.”

The New York Times has long had a reputation as a leader in the world of media, but the example they are setting for coverage of transgender people is downright shameful,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, added in a statement. “From the front page to the opinion page, readers are too often getting an inaccurate view of transgender people, with poor reporting that elevates harmful opinions from known anti-trans voices and so-called ‘concerns’ over the fact that every leading medical organization affirms healthcare for trans youth as safe and necessary.

“GLAAD and other advocates have tried to educate reporters and editors at the Times, but our community can no longer wait for the Times to do the right thing,” she continued. “We need to see action now: Start by listening, hiring, and reporting accurately and inclusively on trans people. Anything less than an intentional and meaningful effort to reach out to and listen to transgender experts is unconscionable and a violation of the public trust.”

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