Each week, we will strive to post content from a guest blogger with an expertise in an area of the field. This week, Bethany Grace Howe, a doctoral student who has written extensively on issues pertaining to the transgender community, discusses the media coverage of election victories by transgender candidates throughout the country. If you are interested in guest blogging on a topic of interest, please contact us here.
I won’t pretend that as a transgender woman the Nov. 7, 2017 election of Danica Roem’s historic election to lead Virginia District 13 didn’t thrill me. The first woman to be elected and one assumes seated as a state representative, I’m proud of her and what she means for people like myself.
Even more towards my own personal joy, it’s especially wonderful because she defeated someone who billed himself as the state’s “chief homophobe.” I won’t deny my sense of schadenfreude at seeing him sent packing from government. Or, to put it in a way more typical of my liberal-Oregon roots: “Karma’s a…”
That said, as a journalist I’m also excited about what the night meant for myself and others like me. Not because of what the media said, but what it did not. Not one article in a mainstream publication mentioned the details of Roem’s transition. Not the liberal New York Times, nor the more conservative Washington Examiner. Even Fox News considered that irrelevant to the story at hand.
Can it be said all media outlets did so? No. Though I have no immediate means to prove it, I suspect on election night some of the more right-wing conservative talking heads chose to do so. (And maybe some liberal ones, too.) Not surprisingly in the least, Breitbart labeled her “a man living as a woman.” And I’d have to pretend to be surprised that they would make such a choice.
That, however, is the point: they made a choice. One that my perusal of media covering that evening and election shows responsible media outlets are making in a way that respects the identity of transgender people.
In Minneapolis, two African-American transgender city council representatives were elected the same night as Roem. No mention was made of their transition in the election coverage.
Outside Atlanta a transgender woman was elected to city council in Doraville. No mention was made of her transition in the election coverage.
And in Erie, Pennsylvania, a transgender man was elected to the school board. No mention was made of his transition in the election coverage.
If this seems repetitious, then I’ve made my point: transgender people should not have to explain or defend their identities any more than members of other diverse groups. People of color or religious faith: we don’t make them quantify and defend their experience. No one asks them to prove they’re African-American, nor how long they’ve been a Christian and why.
I suppose it could be argued that this is a trend limited to major media markets, or those in more liberal blue states, like Minnesota. Atlanta, though more liberal than the rest of the state, is certainly not a hotbed of transgender liberalism. And Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania, where the Erie School Board newspaper coverage was based, is in Cumberland County, a location that saw Donald Trump outpoll Hillary Clinton by 18 percent.
Does this mean everything is just dandy out there in the world of transgender people and media? Certainly not; Breitbart and other faux-news sites like it will remain widely-read purveyors of hate and ignorance. I’ve no doubt either that there are small-town media outlets where small-minded editors prevail over contemporary ethics. Though you don’t have to look that far – or that small – to see where transgender people still must defend their identity.
“Danica Roem born September 30, 1984) is an American journalist and politician of the Democratic Party from Northern Virginia. In the 2017 elections, he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. Roem won the Democratic primary on June 13, 2017, and the general election on November 7, 2017. He is set to become the first openly transgender person to both be elected to a U.S. state’s legislature and serve his term.”
“‘He’ was elected.” “‘He’ is set.” “He” – a incorrect pronoun the article goes on to repeat 17 times (along with “his”) in an article of just over 600 words. For what it’s worth, they included “she” or “her” a half-dozen times. Bad editing? Perhaps.
But I was kind of hoping Wikipedia would be at least as current as their entry regarding the latest Hollywood pervert to come down the pike. Priorities, I guess.