Transgender issues and the mainstream media

Brae Carnes is seen on the front page of the Victoria Times Colonist. (Photo: Brae Carnes/Facebook)
Brae Carnes is seen on the front page of the Victoria Times Colonist on March 5, 2015. (Photo: Brae Carnes/Facebook)

Who would have guessed that a relatively small newspaper like the Victoria Times Colonist could kickstart a bathroom protest movement that would garner support — and media attention — around the world?

Indeed, few people outside of Canada were aware of the paper’s existence until it broke the story last March about Victoria transwoman Brae Carnes and her #plettputmehere campaign against what she saw as Conservative senator Don Plett’s attempt to force some transwomen to use male bathroom facilities — and some transmen to use women’s bathroom facilities.

The paper ran a front-page photo of Brae in a men’s washroom and — presto! — a protest movement was born, spawning the #wejustneedtopee campaign in the United States led by Michael Hughes.

Michael Hughes is seen in this photo pointing out the absurdity of forcing transmen to use women's bathroom facilities. (Photo: Michael Hughes/Facebook)
Michael Hughes is seen in this photo pointing out the absurdity of forcing transmen to use women’s bathroom facilities. (Photo: Michael Hughes/Facebook)

(Another prominent activist in the U.S. tells me we can expect to see more of the same type of protest in some states, designed specifically to attract media coverage — because the media lap it up, eh.)

The Times Colonist story typifies just how much the media in Canada, at least, have evolved in their coverage of transgender issues.

Overall, Canadian English media — newspapers and TV networks — are doing a pretty good job of covering trans issues, I can say fairly objectively ( Disclosure: I work as an editor for a mainstream newspaper and blogged for them, for free, for seven years about LGBT issues, with a heavy emphasis on trans issues.)

Nobody does it better than the Toronto Star, in my view. If I were grading the paper for its coverage of transgender issues and for raising awareness and inspiring politicians to act on behalf of trans people, I would give them an A+.  The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) would also get an A+ from me for the same reasons.

When I first started blogging about LGBT issues, one of my big concerns was with the reader comment sections in media reports about transgender issues. It troubled me that some trans people gave interviews in good faith to newspapers, which then didn’t bother to moderate their reader comments and allowed all sorts of vicious transphobic comments about those trans people to stand.

I protested, and I note now that some newspapers are more vigilant, and even turn off the reader comments to some interview articles (as opposed to straight news).

I can’t really speak about American publications, except for the biggies like the New York Times, which seem to be doing a pretty good job of covering trans issues. As for British publications, I read so few of them that I can’t make fair comment here.

But here is your chance to grade newspapers and TV networks in your cities and countries? Which ones are doing a good job of covering transgender issues? Which ones aren’t — and how could they improve their coverage?

— Jillian Page, LGBT Perspectives editor


“Let harmlessness be the keynote of your life.” — Alice Bailey


One thought on “Transgender issues and the mainstream media”

  1. Funny thing. I don’t read any local papers though I know the Chron to be very friendly to LGBT people. They have been for a long time. Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books were adapted from his newspaper column that ran in the 1970s. The city of San Francisco has been supportive of transgender people as evidenced by the reforms made in the wake of the riot at Comptons’s Cafeteria in 1966.

    My regular news source in English is the Guardian UK with support from the Washington Post. I also read the Madrid daily El País several times a week. The Guardian is a liberal British paper with great international coverage and very supportive of LGBT rights and culture. They also run several feminist columns each week.

    Spain is possibly the most Catholic country in Europe but gay marriage has been legal for 10 years. Saturday was día del Orgullo, the pride festival and the paper provided lots of positive coverage as well as opinion columns about the events. I did a search and found a number of articles about transgender people that were published this year, including one about bathroom usage in the United States.

    In my news world the coverage is rosy.


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