Resources for editing stories on transgender individuals

June 2, 2015 By ACES Staff Resources

The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association issued an open letter Monday for media outlets reporting the Caitlyn Jenner story.

The letter said that many newsrooms have questions about how to cover transgender individuals and offers advice on wording so that coverage is fair and accurate.

“We are not an advocacy group. Our mission is to ensure fair and accurate coverage of issues that affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities,” the open letter said.

For copy editors who have questions about wording in stories covering transgender individuals, the NLGJA stylebook offers guidelines on how to handle pronouns and terminology.

Of note in the open letter is that the organization says “transgender people should be referred to by the name and gender with which they identify.”

Here is the section of the NLGJA stylebook that references pronouns:

Pronoun use for Transgender Sources
If a source shares transgender or gender-nonconforming identity, it is best practice to ask for preferred pronouns. Be cautious that a person’s pronouns may not correspond with the gender that may be associated with one’s name or appearance. Also, do not assume transgender status or include it if it is not germane to the story.
When writing about events prior to when the person began living publicly as a different gender, NLGJA recommends avoiding a mix of different pronouns within a story by using the person’s first name at the time, using the last name as appropriate, or using a structure is clear about the timeline but avoids the need to reference the name.
Example: “Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley, came out as transgender last week. In a statement, Manning said she had felt this way since childhood. Manning grew up in Oklahoma. In middle school, Manning was very outspoken in class about government issues and religious beliefs, friends said. She continues to be outspoken about her beliefs.”
Some transgender people prefer “they” as a singular pronoun or non-standard pronouns such as “he.” If your outlet’s style rules allow unconventional pronouns, it is acceptable to explain in the story that the source prefers it.
Example: Rory, who uses the pronoun ‘they,’ said they support the bill.”

There has been a lot of recent discussion about use of the singular they (with the discussion relating both to grammar and to the search for an inclusive pronoun), and the NLGJA style notes there are ways to write around that.

In many cases, especially those in which the subject’s pronoun preference isn’t known, the story may be more accurate and flow better if pronoun use is avoided rather than risk use of the incorrect one.
Example: “Rory has been involved with the group for three years. ‘This cause has been important to me since high school,’ the teenager said.”

The release of the Vanity Fair article on Caitlyn Jenner offers a good opportunity for copy editors to review and discuss their house style and for freelance copy editors to discuss these style issues with their clients.

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