These New York Times Contributors Say The Paper’s Coverage Of Gender Issues Is Hurting Trans People

  Nurphoto / NurPhoto via Getty Images
Nurphoto / NurPhoto via Getty Images

A group of more than 170 trans, nonbinary, and cisgender contributors to the New York Times published an open letter on Wednesday, condemning the paper’s coverage of trans issues — particularly its reporting around trans youth and gender-affirming healthcare.

The letter, which was written in conjunction with the Freelance Solidarity Project, a group of freelance writers in the National Writers Union, was signed by journalists — including current Times staffers — politicians, novelists, and other news media workers. Prominent signatories included Cynthia Nixon, Pennsylvania state Sen. Nikil Saval, and writers like Rebecca Solnit and Jia Tolentino.

The letter — addressed to the associate managing editor for standards, Philip Corbett — draws attention to the last year of coverage in the Times, during which time, the group writes, the paper of record published 15,000 words across its front pages “debating the propriety of medical care for trans children.”

In recent months, the Times has been criticized by trans journalists, trans right advocates, and others who have sounded the alarms about coverage that often frames the existence of trans children as one up for debate. The new letter marks the first time critics have organized to publicly denounce the Times for having an editorial bias in its coverage of trans issues.

“The newspaper’s editorial guidelines demand that reporters ‘preserve a professional detachment, free of any whiff of bias’ when cultivating their sources, remaining ‘sensitive that personal relationships with news sources can erode into favoritism, in fact or appearance,’” the letter reads.

“Yet the Times has in recent years treated gender diversity with an eerily familiar mix of pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language, while publishing reporting on trans children that omits relevant information about its sources.”

Earlier this year, a group of nine trans and cis Times contributors, including Harron Walker, Muna Mire, Sean T. Collins, and Jo Livingstone, came together to figure out how they might be able to push back against what they characterized as a deluge of anti-trans articles.

“It feels like there has been such an increase in this reporting making its way into the legal system and into policy proposals in a lot of different states. It seems like there’s this moment of critical urgency on the hard nonfiction side of the facts,” Livingstone, a former New Republic writer who has contributed to the Times, told BuzzFeed News.

“At the same time, there’s also a sense of urgency about people from different walks of life needing to come together to show that this is like a lateral position that many people hold. We’re not abnormal. This is not a fringe group.”

The letter cites different Times articles as it criticizes the sourcing and terminology used around gender-affirming care and parental rights. The group says these articles fail to mention explicitly how certain individuals quoted are linked to anti-trans organizations.

In “The Battle Over Gender Therapy,” Times reporter Emily Bazelon quoted Grace Lidinsky-Smith, a young woman who detransitioned. The writers who signed the letter said Bazelon failed to make clear that Lidinsky-Smith is also the president of Gender Care Consumer Advocacy Network, a group that peddles misinformation around hormone replacement therapy and actively opposes gender-affirming care for trans youth.

Bazelon’s article also uses the terminology “patient zero” to refer to a trans child who sought gender-affirming care in the 1980s. The letter condemns the use of this phrase, writing that it “vilifies transness as a disease to be feared.”

The group notes this isn’t the first time the Times has wronged a marginalized group of people. The letter points to the paper’s past linking queerness and disease.

“This era of hateful rhetoric also saw the rise of the term ‘patient zero,’ used to falsely accuse an HIV/AIDS patient of deliberately infecting others,” the letter states. “This is the same rhetoric that transphobic policymakers recently reintroduced to the American lawmaking apparatus by quoting Emily Bazelon’s Times article.”

The letter’s signatories aren't only worried about the type of sourcing and language used in the Times; they also point to specific instances in the current legal battles to restrict gender-affirming care for trans youth where the Times’ coverage is used as evidence.

“The natural destination of poor editorial judgment is the court of law,” the letter states. The letter notes that three articles from the Times were cited in last year’s amicus brief filed by the Arkansas attorney general in defense of a state law that would criminalize doctors who provide gender-affirming care to youth.

“To see how fast a sentiment can move from the hard right to the paper of record to policy — how fast that happens and how much the New York Times facilitates that process by condensing hard-right talking points into ostensible front-page stories. I think the speed was what rattled me,” Livingstone said.

Livingstone said the group hopes to affect change in the Times’ future coverage of trans issues. They have been encouraged by how many people — not only trans media workers, but cis allies as well — have shown support for the letter.

“It’s much harder to dismiss a single sustained argument cosigned by scores of people,” Livingstone said. “The way that the Times operates is they have a system which insulates them, I think, from having to respond to a lot of criticism, which is why this group decided we have to go the extra mile.”

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