Transphobia in local media

The Pittsburgh City Paper's Lauren Daley provides excellent coverage of a story on transphobia in the local media and the ensuing community response.

In short, WPXI covered the arrest of two female identified individuals who were allegedly engaged in prostitution.  Outrage arose over the station's bungling of gender and trans terminology during their story.

Online they allegedly advertised as women. In police reports, their genders are listed male, and they are referred to as transvestites. And one television news reporter referred to Nakala Jackson and Tamika Jones as “two men” who were “posing as women and operating as prostitutes.”

Daley goes on to detail the WPXI coverage.

I first learned about this story from the Queer Events List an email community of 700+ individuals.  A few members who caught the broadcast quickly jumped online calling for a response from the community.  Several people, myself included, contacted the station.  I heard nothing back.  Others reported hostility when they called the news editor to complain. 

The thread throughout the discussion was the responsibility of Pittsburgh's LGBTQ community to educate the media about these and related issues to ensure fair and accurate reporting.  In that spirit a group gathered at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center to do just that. One organizer, Rayden Sorock, sent out this planned approach a few days after the meeting.

1. Send around a petition for people to sign showing that members of the community will not stand for such ignorant coverage of trans and gender-variant people. We want to educate WPXI and other local media about the appropriate way to talk about transgender people.
2. Compile a list of reactions to the news story to send to WPXI. Please email me any submissions. They can be anonymous, but it would be most effective if you gave your name and affiliation if any.
3. Connect with other members of the community who want to work on creating a positive media image for trans people. For example a YouTube video campaign.
4. As a long term goal: to develop a relationship between the LGBT community of Pittsburgh and the police & Allegheny County Jail to ensure that LGBT people are treated with respect and remain safe from harm if they interact with the police or are arrested.

Viewer feedback to WPXI is a good idea, especially if the numbers are substantial AND a solution is proposed.  As of now, there is no central go-to place for a coordinated LGBTQ media response.  I get all sorts of requests for comment and I know there are a few other folks who are oft quoted, but it is more about being a contact/connection with certain media outlets than a coordinated effort.  This is a weakness in Pittsburgh's community and it would be a gap well filled by the GLCC should they have the resources to do so. 

The YouTube video campaign is intriguing and a creative solution.  The relationship with the jail is another positive goal that would address systemic change.  It is an issue that has arisen many times over the years I've been part of the community.  Perhaps a fresh perspective generated by a grassroots movement will spur action.

The group has a Facebook page. if you'd like to get involved.

Sorock also commented for the City Paper story

“This whole story is treated as a totally insensitive joke and is extremely offensive,” says Rayden Sorock, a Lawrenceville resident and a fellow with the Initiative for Transgender Leadership at the Regional Internship Center of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Using terms like “transvestite” or “posing,” Sorock says, “create the idea that someone's gender they present is a lie or only a transition.”

The good that comes out of this story is the big picture thinking.  The women who were arrested have departed the scene, but their experience transcends the community.  If this group of motivated trans advocates can mobilize a systemic approach to the broader issue, they'll create a more respectful community for everyone.

That's a big “if.” Last year's gay bashing incident in Bloomfield galvanized scores of folks (including moi) to turn out for a vigil near the scene of the alleged incident.  Folks struggled to control the message and conflicting reports on the incident soon leaked out, disillusioning both the allies of genuine gay bashing victims and the community at large. Details are still murky. What didn't happen was a meeting of those minds to sit down and talk about the realities of gay bashing in Pittsburgh.  Opportunity lost which is a reflection on the divides permeating the local LGBTQ community … but you've heard me expound on that before. 

Both situations present the complications of more vulnerable members of our community enduring homophobia and transphobia.  The fact that these women are alleged prostitutes and/or the decisions of the Bloomfield folks on how to interact with the police only serve to highlight that the issues disproportionately impact folks who may be already marginalized even within our community. 

The grassroots response is heartening.  In Bloomfield, a group emerged to provide safety in numbers approach to reclaiming safe spaces in their neighborhoods. It isn't a 501c3 and has no website, but they do represent an approach to the problem as well as a potential voice at the table. 

Are those at the table ready to make room and open themselves to alternative points of view?  For the sake of women like Nakala Jackson,Tamika Jones and nameless other victims of discriminatory treatment, let's hope so. 


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