When journalists mis-identify a trans person, an entire group of people sees a part of themselves erased and devalued. In a recent story involving a transgender teacher in Queens, New York who has filed a lawsuit after allegedly being fired from a Catholic school because of anti-LGBT discrimination, the issue of respect for identity is less clear. The teacher's lawyer has used male pronouns to refer to his client, though the story clearly reports that the teacher was fired after coming out as a transgender woman to the school's principal. What should journalists do in this situation? The AP Stylebook offered guidance on this issue more than a decade ago. It's very simple - ask the person whom you are trying to identify.
The Huffington Post's Gay Voices section did just that, reaching out the teacher to inquire about correct name and pronouns. When the teacher did not respond, which is unsurprising given that the story involves a lawsuit, The Huffington Post attached an Editor's note to its report, explaining that the news outlet reached out, had not settled the issue, and was defaulting to the name and pronouns provided by the person currently speaking publicly for the teacher.
It's important to note that there are many news stories in which the fact that the subject is transgender has no relevance to the issue being covered. And if the person being reported on is not 'out' as transgender (i.e., if the person has not at some point publicly disclosed that they are transgender), it is inappropriate to include that information. However, in this story, the fact that the teacher is transgender is relevant because this is a discrimination lawsuit. If a journalist understands why properly identifying the subjects of a given story is crucial, why wouldn't they follow this principle when the subject is transgender? There is no justifiable reason. As with any story, reporters should do everything they can to include the correct name and pronouns for a transgender person in their story.
For more information about fair, accurate and inclusive reporting on transgender issues, visit the GLAAD Media Reference Guide. For those reporting on transgender victims of crime, visit Doubly Victimized: Reporting on Transgender Victims of Crime.