When journalist Ashley Dejean realized they were transgender, the first thing they sought out was community with other trans people in their industry. But Dejean soon realized there wasn’t a centralized group for trans journalists. So they created a Facebook group about a year and a half ago and invited some “cool trans folks in media” they hoped to befriend.
“I felt like I was in a place where I wanted to help other people out and had a bit of knowledge and experience in the industry, but also was in a place where I wasn’t quite sure what my next step was,” Dejean tells NewNowNext. “So I also wanted a community to help me out.”
Dejean’s group soon moved to Slack, where its numbers grew to more than 200 people. The byproduct of that Slack channel? The newly formed Trans Journalists Association (TJA), a professional resource group for trans and gender non-conforming journalists, led by trans and gender non-conforming journalists.
The group formally launched this Tuesday, June 30. Its structure is non-hierarchal and community-based, meaning all members are invited to offer input on TJA projects and decisions, according to TJA founding member Kam Burns.
For many of its members, TJA is also an answer to repeated issues with the National Association of LGBTQ Journalists (NLGJA). Burns, an associate engagement manager at Wired, says programming at NLGJA conferences caters mostly to cisgender members of the queer community, to the point where it often feels like trans journalists are “kind of an afterthought.”
Burns also points to the symbolic erasure of trans people in the group’s acronym, a holdover from its previous name: “I mean, right off the bat, the name… their official name is now the National LGBTQ Journalism Association, but why not change the acronym with that?”
Unlike NLGJA, TJA doesn’t require its members to pay dues. The group also launched with a robust, publicly available style guide for covering writing about trans people and trans issues.
TJA’s style guide includes in-depth explanations about why common mistakes cis reporters make when covering trans people—like dead-naming subjects, or being unnecessarily verbose when explaining how someone identifies and what pronouns they use—are harmful. It’s a point of pride for TJA founding member Da’Shaun Harrison, an associate editor at Wear Your Voice magazine. “There’s no way one can read this and not know more about transness, even outside of how to write about us,” they tell NewNowNext. “And that’s the beauty and brilliance of it, I believe.”
Dejean cites Alex Kapitan’s Radical Copyeditor’s Style Guide for Writing About Trans People as inspiration: “When I worked in other newsrooms, that’s what I would send people because that was the only guide that I felt was at the standard to how we should be talking and writing about trans people. But because it’s not made by a journalists association, and because it’s got the word ’radical’ in it, mainstream media isn’t going to listen.”
The style guide is a vital resource since media coverage plays a huge role in how trans and gender non-conforming people are perceived by the general public.
“The reality is, only about a quarter of Americans actually know a trans person,” Dejean says. “Because of that, the media has a really, really big responsibility for writing about trans people and educating. And they’re really failing in that obligation right now. So a big part of forming this group is to push them to do better.”
On the last day of pride, we are calling for the media to do better. To tell trans stories in a way that does not cause harm, to hire trans journalists, to make newsrooms a safe place for trans people.
— Oliver-Ash Kleine (they/them)✨ (@OliverAshKleine) June 30, 2020
But equally as important as telling trans stories is hiring trans journalists, writers, and editors to do so. It’s a double-edged sword, Abigail Hadfield, another founding member of TJA, tells NewNowNext: “On the one hand, you want to be the one to cover an issue that affects you… but you also don’t want to be pigeonholed as like, ’Okay, you’re just the trans reporter, and you report on the transitions and nothing else.’ And it’s a really difficult situation to be in. It hurts when you see someone [who’s cis] reporting on trans issues and being praised with accolades for doing work that a lot of trans journalists were doing already.”
TJA also launched with two resource guides for employers to make their workplaces more trans-friendly, or to support an employee who just came out as trans.
Its guides aside, Hadfield says TJA’s Slack channel is a hugely important forum: “The group itself is just a really great resource in terms of being able to come to them and say, ’Look, here’s this thing that I encountered today in the meeting. What do you think of this? How can I resolve this?’ It’s a support network of people discussing things that a lot of us have also faced. And it’s just a great experience to feel like, ’Wow, I’m not alone in this.'”
Not a single trans person is quoted or cited. https://t.co/I0paqn39ct
— Gillian Branstetter (@GBBranstetter) June 16, 2020
At the end of the day, TJA’s mission is simple: to make journalism, already a field marked by barriers-to-entry for anyone who is not white, wealthy, straight, or male, more welcoming for trans people.
“Workplaces should be safe for trans people before a trans person enters them,” Dejean says. “It shouldn’t take a trans person coming in and having a lot of uncomfortable experiences before there’s any thought around what a workplace needs to do to be trans-inclusive and affirming.”
Learn more about the Trans Journalists Association and how to support its work here.