Transgender guidance

About this guidance

The Editors’ Code of Practice sets the framework for the highest professional standards for journalists. There are some situations where it is helpful for IPSO to produce guidance which explores in more detail how the Editors’ Code applies to particular themes or issues. One such area is the researching and reporting of transgender issues.

This guidance does not replace or supersede the Editors’ Code, but is designed to support editors and journalists who are researching or writing on transgender issues. It does not limit or restrict editorial decision making, but may inform that decision making.

This guidance is aimed at editors and journalists and may also be helpful  to members of the public. If you need further advice, please contact IPSO or see the ‘Resources’ section at the end of this guidance.

The Editors' Code

The Editors’ Code contains a number of Clauses relevant to reporting or researching stories on transgender individuals (although it is important to note that all Clauses of the Code may be relevant). There are exceptions to some Clauses in the Code (including 2, 3, 6 and 8 below) where publication of material that might normally breach the Code would be allowed in the wider public interest. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believe that publication would both serve and be proportionate to the public interest.

  • Clause 1 (Accuracy) requires that the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images. The Clause also makes clear that the press, whilst free to editorialise, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

  • Clause 2 (Privacy) affords everyone the right to respect for his or her private life, home, health and correspondence. The protections provided by Clause 2 are also relevant to the situation of family members or friends of individuals at the centre of such coverage, who may be concerned about potential intrusion.

  • Clause 3 (Harassment) provides protection to individuals from harassment, intimidation and persistent pursuit. In addition, it makes clear that if asked to desist, journalists must cease telephoning, questioning, pursuing or photographing individuals, unless an overriding public interest justifies the activity.

  • Clause 6 (Children) provides protection to children, to ensure that they are protected from unnecessary intrusion and to ensure that their welfare is protected.

  • Clause 8 (Hospitals) may be relevant when an individual is undergoing medical treatment, which could relate to their physical or mental health.

  • Clause 12 (Discrimination) makes clear that the press should avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s sex, gender identity or sexual orientation (alongside other characteristics). An individual’s gender identity and sexual orientation must not be referenced unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Points for editors to consider

There are a wide variety of stories which may touch on transgender issues. We have developed some key questions and points, based on the Editors’ Code, which may help journalists and editors. Some points may be more relevant to particular types of stories than others, but it may helpful to consider all of the points set out below.

1. Relevance (Clauses 12 and 2)

  • Would the story be newsworthy if it did not concern an individual of transgender status?
  • Is the individual’s status relevant?

2. Language (Clauses 12 and 1)

  • Is the terminology being used pejorative or prejudicial?
  • If known, have you used the pronouns the individual uses to describe themselves in your story?

3. Publicity (Clauses 12 and 1)

  • Has the individual made their transgender status known?
  • If not, is the revelation of their status necessary to the story?
  • Do you know if the individual has applied for a Gender Recognition Certificate?

4. Terminology (Clause 1 and 12)

  • What terminology are you using to describe gender transition?
  • Have you taken care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information?

5. Unnecessary information (Clause 2)

  • Does the article include unnecessary information, such as irrelevant references to previous identities, publication of pictures of individuals pre-transition, or references to medical details?
  • Are you considering publishing information which could be considered a breach of privacy?

6. Statistics (Clause 1)

  • It is difficult to estimate the number of individuals in the UK with gender dysphoria or who have undergone gender transition - editors should present such claims with care.

Cases involving children

Children who are experiencing gender dysphoria or undergoing a gender transition may be particularly vulnerable. The Editors’ Code contains stringent requirements that are intended to ensure that children are protected from unnecessary intrusion.

  • All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
  • Pupils must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.
  • Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.
  • Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child’s interest.
  • Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.

Any coverage of a child’s personal circumstances must be contemplated with extreme caution and due regard for the requirement that “in cases involving children under 16, editors must demonstrate an exceptional public interest to override the normally paramount interests of the child.” If you believe that an exceptional public interest does justify coverage, you should consider how to limit the intrusion posed by the coverage. You could do this by omitting details that could identify the child or the school they attend. Editors should be aware that this may not be sufficient to meet the requirements of the Code. Such coverage has the potential to intrude into a child’s time at school even in cases where they not readily identifiable. 

Vulnerability

Some individuals of transgender status will be happy to discuss their experiences with the media, others feel extremely vulnerable when their circumstances are brought to public attention through press coverage or are concerned about the prospect of coverage. When preparing stories, editors and journalists should not lose sight of the fact that individuals who are experiencing gender dysphoria, or are undergoing or have undergone a gender transition, will often be in a particularly vulnerable position. 

Gender Recognition Certificates

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 enables transgender people to apply to the Gender Recognition Panel to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). If an individual is granted a full GRC they will, from the date of issue, be considered in the eyes of the law to be of their acquired gender. The Act safeguards the privacy of transgender people by defining information in relation to the gender rec-ognition process as protected information. Anyone who acquires that information in an official capacity may be breaking the law if they disclose it without the consent of the individual concerned. However, protected information can be disclosed for limited, defined public policy reasons, for example when investigating a crime. Editors may want to seek legal advice before making a decision on whether to publish information in relation to the gender recognition process.