‘Words are important’: Lessons for journalists, others who cover and talk about transgender people
According to a study by the Williams Institute, more than 1.4 million people in the United States now identify as non-binary and are gender fluid. But quite often, transgender people are misidentified in news stories and police reports.
On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked about LGBTQ advocacy with Missouri’s state-wide LGBTQ group, PROMO. They addressed how journalists have reported on recent violence against transgender people in Missouri and appropriate language to use when talking about trans people.
Joining the discussion were Katie Stuckenschneider and Steph Perkins, PROMO’s communications director and executive director, respectively. They hope to create a better understanding and sensitivity to the LGBTQ community.
Stuckenschneider said journalists who report on transgender people often misgender transgender and non-binary people. As communications director of PROMO, she contacts media outlets when she sees people misidentified, including Kenneth “Kiwi” Herring, a black transgender woman fatally shot by two officers in St. Louis on Aug. 23
“I take it upon myself, immediately when I see an article that pops up on trans people or non-binary people, to talk to the journalists about this,” Stuckenschneider said. “It’s a great education piece and it’s opened up a lot of dialogue with lots of media.”
Earlier this month Perkins and Stuckenschneider presented to St. Louis Public Radio’s newsroom about reporting on issues relating to the LGBTQ community.
Law enforcement departments are also implementing LGBTQ liaisons to avoid misidentifying people in police reports.
“The [Department of Justice] offers trans-specific training to law enforcement … [liaisons] will help them have somebody they trust to go to, to ask a lot of these questions,” Perkins said.
When it comes to misidentifying a subject, Stuckenschneider said it’s okay for people to get it wrong. But the goal should be to correct the mistake and use it as an educational opportunity to talk about correct labels.
“It’s really is about finding the word that fits for you and lot of people will argue that labels are less important, but we label everything as a society. Words are important,” Perkins said.
Stuckenschneider and Perkins talked about some common language used in the LGBTQ+ community:
- Gender: Construct that involves behavioral, psychological or social dimensions.
- Sex: Refers to the biological differences between male, female and inter-sex people; Things that can be altered overtime with the use of hormones and surgery.
- Queer: Term previously used as a pejorative to describe someone from the LGBT community. Now reclaimed, it describes people who reject traditional gender identities.
- Non-binary: Someone that might not appear to look physically male or female; gender identification that is not exclusively masculine or feminine.
- Gender queer: A person who does not subscribe to gender distinctions but identifies with neither or both.
- Transgender: Someone assigned male or female at birth and transition to the gender they identify as.
- Cisgender: A complimentary concept to transgender, used instead of saying ‘non-transgender.’
- Dead naming: When somebody calls a person by the name the person no longer uses.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.