Media attention surrounding Bruce Jenner is reaching a crescendo with Diane Sawyer's two-hour interview kicking off ABC's sweeps programing. While Jenner hasn't confirmed the widespread speculation of being transgender, that hasn't dampened such expectations, or fears among transgender advocates surrounding the event. The dramatic tone of the promotional spots for the program does more than generate interest in the broadcast; it raises questions about how we as media professionals cover transgender people and their stories. Are we relying on outdated storytelling techniques and false stereotypes about transgender lives to get views?
Newsrooms are always looking for stories their audiences will find interesting, and the idea of a celebrity they have known for decades revealing they are transgender is attention-getting. Can it be told without resorting to sensationalism? Can the tired, old, and exploitive devices e.g. shots of the person putting on makeup, shopping for shoes, getting dressed, binding, etc., be avoided? This can be an opportunity to serve our audience better by elevating our coverage of transgender people.
It's true that a celebrity transition can have major impact across communities. Every transgender person has faced some compelling challenges, but when we cover transgender lives we must have context. How does this compare to the lives in our communities? What are the issues facing transgender people who aren't celebrities?
Going beyond the expected media hype we can inform our audience about the dangers faced by transgender men and women moving through society. The simple task of accessing health care, even routine care not related to their transition can be dehumanizing for some. From education, housing, and employment, to violence and even murder, there are many issues to explore for every newsroom in every community. We can explore the intersection of identities lived by trans people of color and trans people of faith.
There are powerful stories of success too. Yes, most people will be familiar with the breakthrough of Laverne Cox who was featured on the cover of Time magazine. She continues to be an important and inspirational example for many, whether or not they are transgender.
In Chicago Angelica Ross is Executive Director and CEO of an education and job training company called TransTech Social Enterprises. Amanda Simpson is Executive Director at U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives. Sgt. Shane Ortega serves as a helicopter crew chief in the Army's 25th Infantry Division. Ina Fried is Senior Editor for Mobile at the tech news platform Re/code.
What are the transgender people in your community doing? Telling those stories can make our work as media professionals stronger. We can serve our audience by using all our skills as journalists to tell another story.