WILTON MANORS, FLORIDA — All along Wilton Drive, rainbow flags fly high against the Floridian sunset. But on this particular Thursday night, broader and possibly more urgent questions were brought up highlighting the “T” of LGBTQ.
To engage with transgender community members and journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Florida professional chapter (SPJ Florida) and the Stonewall National Museum & Archives hosted The Transgender Community and the Media panel and group discussion in Wilton Manors, Florida, on Nov. 30.
The event featured three panelists, one moderator and a sizable audience asking and answering questions and presenting discussion topics on transgender representation and treatment in the media industries.
“As a trans person and as someone who works in the media, I’ve been on both ends of being interviewed and doing interviews,” said Brendon Lies via phone prior to the night of the event. Lies is the art director at the South Florida Gay News and was the moderator for the evening.
“My goal is to kind of open up a discussion between trans people and journalists to build more of a mutual trust.”
The panelists were made up of Tiffany Arieagus, case manager at SunServe and longtime trans activist; Emery Grant, director of programming and education at the Stonewall National Museum & Archives; and Rajee Narinesingh, trans activist, author, actress and reality television personality.
Lies said, “Trans people need their voices heard, and journalists are the ones holding the microphone.”
During the event, questions surrounding what to ask and what not to ask trans people were discussed. Problematic aspects of sensationalizing trans experiences and reducing people to only traumatic experiences were some of the first issues to be brought up.
Narinesingh said she felt like many of her accomplishments were erased from media coverage about her since many of the stories only related to her appearance and surgical experiences. She described an incident with a writer for a magazine in the United Kingdom and how the writer told her that an editor would have to approve of having “trans activist” added to the story due to spacing issues in the print edition.
“Two words: trans activist. Is that really going to mess up your type space?” said Narinesingh. “You don’t want to give me credit.”
Grant also touched on respecting both journalists and trans people.
“The opening lead like gives you so much information,” said Grant. “If they’re leading with, ‘So apparently this person is a woman, or has been, or was a woman at some point, or whatever.’ … It’s that “whatever.” We were fine until you said “whatever,” because we are talking about people.”
The correct use of pronouns was also brought up during the group panel. Just in March, the Associated Press Stylebook announced through a blog post on the American Copy Editors Society’s website that it would now include “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun.
When the panel was asked if it would be offensive for journalists to ask a person what their pronouns are, Arieagus said, “No, I’d rather they ask than use the wrong one. At least if they ask, that means they are trying to be considerate, compassionate, understanding.”
She said she had her own learning process with gender-neutral pronouns and the gender non-binary identity. Arieagus said she admitted her faults and noted that “change takes time” when it comes to older generations learning the politically correct terms of the present. One example she gave was how she was recently advised to avoid using “ma’am” or “sir” when speaking with people whose pronouns she doesn’t know.
“But I’m from Alabama. I’m from the South; that’s what we say. So now I have to learn to say ‘May I help you?’” said Arieagus.
After the event concluded, Dawn Cohen Holloway, attendee and owner of the Pink Sub eatery in Wilton Manors, said, “I thought it was really good actually. I learned a lot. I am pretty much from a little younger than Tiffany, but in that same age gap to where I am still learning and being educated on trans, and pronouns, and all the other educational things.”
When Holloway was asked about the big takeaway from the panel, she said, “Being brought up to date, that’s what it really was.”
Lies said it was a start and “I think there were some really hard questions and things that couldn’t necessarily be answered on the spot in an environment like this. But I think it was good for getting the thoughts going in peoples’ mind … and for opening up the dialogue and showing that these are questions that are out there and need to be asked and answered.”
Journalist’s note: As for the future between journalists and trans people, respect and integrity seemed to be a few basic ideas that were shared among the attendees. What can be said for certain is that many more questions and conversations will have to be had in order to continue building trust between those with the microphone and those needing to be heard.
Justin Clay is a multimedia journalism student at Georgia State University and is currently serving as an editorial intern at Creative Loafing in Atlanta, Georgia. Clay graduates in December 2017. He has worked at The Signal, the GSU independent student newspaper and GSU-TV, in partnership with the Georgia Public Broadcasting. For more information about Clay visit justinvclay.myportfolio.com or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.