IPSO Blog: Coverage of transgender issues

This week, charity Stonewall released ‘LGBT in Britain: Trans report’, looking at the impact discrimination, violence and exclusion is having on trans people’s quality of life in Britain today. Their report investigates the specific experiences of 871 trans and non-binary people.

I read the report’s findings and recommendations with interest. For me, one of the most striking things was the concern that some of those interviewed raised about the reporting of trans issues in the media.

Stonewall's report cited concerns about reporting from Willow and Esme:

“Even just five years ago it was not safe for me to come out as trans, the pace of change has been amazing. Unfortunately, there now appears to be a backlash against that progress in the last year with hate from the media against trans increasingly disturbingly in the last six months. This increasing transphobia is accelerating and is causing acute anxiety in my daily life.” Willow, 40 (Wales).

“We are constantly questioned on our existence, treated hostilely and ridiculed in the name of debate. We are constantly exposed to hate and criticism in media and daily life as the public respond to the media’s attitudes. I’m sick of being described as a mentally ill freak.” Esme, 32 (Scotland).

Ruth Hunt, Stonewall's Chief Executive echoed some of these concerns. She said:

“Our report reveals there still remains widespread discrimination, violence, and exclusion of trans people across Britain.

After Caitlyn Jenner announced her transition in 2015, we saw greater visibility of some trans individuals, but this didn’t include diverse representations of trans people from all walks of life. At the same time, media debated trans experiences and asked trans people to explain and justify their identity. This horrific reaction continues today with more and more headlines making misleading claims of people being ‘turned trans’. Such alarming and horrendous media backlash shows we have much more work to do to improve trans people’s quality of life.

Now more than ever we need policy makers, organisations, communities and individuals – and the media – stand up as allies and come out for trans equality.”

We at IPSO closely monitor reporting in this area and can provide support if necessary through our harassment services and by investigating complaints about any articles which may raise a breach of the Editors’ Code (the set of rules that our regulated publications must follow).

We work closely with a number of organisations which support trans individuals and their families, and, with their support, we have developed guidance for editors’ and journalists who are researching or writing on transgender issues.

The guidance provides some key questions and points which help journalists and editors to make sure they comply with their obligations under the Editors’ Code when reporting on stories which may touch on transgender issues. This includes sensitivity around the language used, making sure terminology is not pejorative or prejudicial and carefully considering use of pronouns. There is a particular focus on children who are experiencing gender dysphoria or undergoing a gender transition, as they may be particularly vulnerable. The Editors’ Code contains stringent requirements that are intended to ensure that children are protected from unnecessary intrusion.

Although the guidance was written with editors and journalists in mind, it may also be useful to members of the public as it clearly sets out what the Editors’ Code expects and explains what is and is not acceptable.

If anyone is concerned about any reporting of transgender issues has breached the Editors’ Code, they can make a complaint to us here.

We can also advise individuals who are worried or distressed by press interest and can in some cases issue an ‘Advisory Notice’ to warn publications that a particular individual or family does not wish to talk to the media. You can find out more about this here.

You can download the guidance here.

The coverage of transgender issues and gender identity more broadly is a sensitive and challenging issue and often involves reporting on very personal matters. With that said, however, it is important that there is public debate on the impact of gender transition on individuals and more broadly, on how society accommodates transgender individuals. There is a balance to be struck between being aware of the impact of press reporting and commentary on vulnerable individuals, and ensuring that it is still possible to report freely on these social issues.

IPSO is exploring further work it could undertake in this area so if you have any feedback on this or other issues, please contact me at charlotte.urwin@ipso.co.uk