SXSW Panel: Responsible Reporting on Anti-Trans Violence for Journalists – REPLAY

On March 8, 2024, TransLash Media founder and CEO Imara Jones moderated a panel at SXSW in Austin, Texas: Responsible Reporting on Anti-Trans Violence for Journalists featuring Serena Daniari, Arielle Rebekah, and Eva Reign. Access the Instagram Live replay and transcript below:

By Daniela “Dani” Capistrano for TransLash Media

SXSW TRANSCRIPT: Responsible Reporting on Anti-Trans Violence for Journalists


IMARA JONES: Welcome everyone to our panel today, which is going to be on responsible reporting on anti-trans violence. We’re thrilled to have this conversation with you at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, which of course is a focal point for not only anti-trans laws and anti-trans violence. And there’s a relationship between those things, which we can help unpack and discuss as well.

And also a place where, because of the way in which trans people are often portrayed, it contributes to the atmosphere of violence: physical violence, policy violence, cultural violence, and, all of the ways that that people can be attacked.

And we know that the media has a really important role in shaping the way issues are framed and shaping the way that people think [learn more about the #AntiTransHateMachine].

And it’s the feeling on every feeling, every single person on this panel, that if you can move those two things, that they can have a direct impact on increasing the safety and the strength of ability for us to live long, protected, and healthy lives.

Because trans people are only 1% of the population, it means that we have to be even more reliant on the ability of media and journalism in all of its forms to portray us in a way, so that people can get to know us and understand that we are human beings and deserve the same human rights as everyone.

So what we are going to do today is to show the way in which media portrayals of us and the way that we are reported on, in both the political mainstream entertainment press, directly impact our safety. And we’ll also talk about ways that we believe that the reporting on us in those various spheres of journalism can be improved, and what action people can take in order to help make us safer. We’re going to talk for about 35, 40 minutes, to kind of start the conversation and let you all know what we are thinking, and then move to questions from you all, which will be a really valuable and enriching part of this conversation.

So, we just want to thank you for joining us. I’m gonna start with introductions and then we’ll move to the conversation. My name is Imara Jones. I am the founder and CEO of Trans slash Media, which is a journalism and non-profit storytelling organization, which uses the power of narrative in order to center the humanity of trans people. And we do so with the very direct idea that the power of storytelling and centering our humanity as a way to decrease violence against trans people because we believe at TransLash that the ignorance about our communities is what contributes to our lack of wellbeing. And we do so in a variety of ways. We do so through video, including documentaries, short documentaries, animated films. We have three podcasts. One just launched on Thursday, just yesterday, called The Mess. It’s a political podcast.

We do so through zines. We do so through a variety of media, and at TransLash what we say is that we tell trans stories to save trans lives. And so it’s one of the reasons why I’m thrilled, as a part of my work, to be in conversation with everyone here. And I’m just going to tell you who all of these amazing people are. ‘Cause each of them could be a panel by themselves and in their own right.

The first person, uh, to my left is Serena Jazmine. Serena is a senior digital manager at Transgender Law Center. Serena is also a journalist, having been a correspondent at [redacted] where we first met, all those years ago. Who’s counting? Serena also has a TikTok, you know, on brand, which seeks to talk about the reality of trans people, both in terms of politics and what’s happening to us, and as well as centering our humanity.

Next to Serena is Eva Reign. Eva is a GLAAD and Peabody Award-winning actress, as well as journalist, having written for imprints like Vogue, Vice, as well as TransLash. And then Eva is also the star of anything Anything’s Possible on Amazon Prime. So for all of you Prime subscribers, you know, we get Prime video as a part of that. So it’s real easy to go there and type in Anything’s Possible where you can see Eva’s work. So we’re thrilled to have Eva here.

And then last but not least is Arielle Rebekah, who is a communications consultant at the Transgender Law Center. And also, I’m gonna get this very right, Ariel is the founder of Trans and Caffeinated––I mean, so many things you can do with that brand, right? It’s not my job, but I’m coming up with branding ideas––founder of Trans and Caffeinated Consulting, which offers communications and advocacy support to progressive organizations and anyone who wishes to inject those perspectives in their work. Please welcome our panelists today.

Misrepresentation of Trans People in Mainstream America

IMARA JONES: One of the things that I wanted to start you all with in terms of contextualization is to show just how much stereotypes, disinformation, and the misrepresentation of trans people has funneled into the mainstream ideas of America, and specifically mainstream journalism. And we know that if it’s there, it’s everywhere. It’s literally, as the pop culture collaborative says is, you know, the ocean that we are swimming in, it is the narrative ocean that we are swimming in. And it gives context to what we’re gonna talk about today.

At Trans Lash, we have a group of investigative journalists that since 2020 has been working to unpack the people, the money, the organizations, that are driving anti-trans hate, and subsequently anti-trans violence in the country. And their work is encapsulated in, a podcast that we have, an investigative series, that we have called The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality.

And each season we take a different look at what’s driving the violence in these bills. And most recently, we had an entire season that was devoted to the media and to the media landscape, and the penultimate episode of that podcast focused on the New York Times and the way in which misrepresentations, disinformation, stereotypes about trans people have made their way into the New York Times. And how that is being weaponized against trans people.

For people who don’t want to spend an hour and 10 minutes with that episode listening to it online, we’ve also developed a two and a half minute animation, which encapsulates some of the main points.

What we show is how the New York Times has essentially decided to become a repository for anti-trans information by the conversations of pseudoscientific groups like the American College of Pediatricians by uplifting discredited, disgruntled Christian nationalist parents who say that their kids are being trans are as a result of social contagion. And also by listening to other various discredited voices, and I mean, discredited scientifically, who support these ideas about transness essentially not being real. And we know that those representations that are in the New York Times are actually being quoted in the various state capitals across the country as a legitimizing factor for anti-trans bills. And we know that in those states, that whenever those bills are discussed, that, that the calls to suicide hotlines of trans and other queer youth shoot through the roof, which means that there’s a very clear connection between the media landscape, these bills, and violence that trans people face.

And one of the most stark examples of that, that we have recently, although it is clearly not the only one, is Nex Benedict. And Nex Benedict lived in a state in which they have increasingly passed laws to erase and makes schools hostile to trans youth. And their murder shows the consequence of that. And that’s on top of the violence that trans people face overall. The fact that for several years in a row, we have record breaking years of murders of trans people in this country. And what’s most [muffled] about a lot of those murders is that the people who kill trans people don’t believe that they’ve done anything wrong, and they don’t believe that they’ve done anything wrong because they live in a world where they receive messages that trans people are fake, not real, and therefore not human, and don’t even deserve the basic ability to breathe.

In some of these cases, when you read about these murders, the men that commit them will literally wait for the police because they don’t believe that they’ve done anything wrong. And so what we want to do is to talk about the messages that people are receiving that allow them to commit these extreme acts of violence in all of the ways. So first I want to talk to you, Serena, who understands kind of the digital landscape in great detail, but also has been a reporter in newsrooms. Can you just give a sense of what the conversations are like about trans people that leads to some of these misrepresentations?

Serena Jazmine: Yes, absolutely. So I’ve been working in different newsrooms for a decade now, starting at the Huffington Post, Mic, Slate, Conde Nast. So I’ve gone from a period where newsrooms didn’t care at all about trans issues, and the trans community was under recorded on, and now what we’re seeing is a saturation of coverage about our community, right?

But as we all know, visibility without protection is a curse, and it’s ultimate, ultimately detrimental because we’re seeing, like you mentioned, legacy publishers, some of the most storied giants in journalism, like the New York Times, like the Washington Post, um, amplifying, anti-trans rhetoric that the data shows has a direct through line to acts of anti-trans violence being committed. So I think a lot of times when publishers like the New York Times are covering the trans community in this way, maybe they think that it’s a good business decision because for better, for worse, people are invested in our community right now, you know, across political leanings, across police.

People really want to read and consume news about the trans community. And so, in a way, these publishers are capitalizing on it, but they’re actually doing themselves a disservice in the long run because in order to build sustainable journalism around the trans community, you have to build a through line to the community. You have to develop trust. And what they’re doing is breaking trust, because we take notice of the publishers that are reporting sensitively and responsibly about a community, and we take notice about the ones who don’t, and we become more reluctant to speak to ’em when incidents happen. We tell our community members not to trust these journalists, uh, these reporters. And it erodes trust over time. And so, you know, as reporters, I think we should care about finding solutions to an anti-trans violence, because it’s the morally and ethically responsible thing to do.

But I know publishers don’t always care about that. So it’s also, if they don’t care about that, should be an incentive to them from a business model perspective to start responsibly reporting on trans the trans community. Because when they own trust, they’re basically building a wall between themselves and a community that they’re relying on right now to meet their KPIs, their page views, you know what I mean? So I think another issue is that legacy publishers like the New York Times are using their opinion sections as a way to just amplify and platform blatant anti-trans personal essays from people who just dislike trans people. And so they’re giving legitimacy to news that are completely have been debunked by science, by medical professionals. And so I think this is especially troubling in an era where we’re seeing publications that are actually reporting on the trans community in ways that are accurate, like Buzzfeed and, the Huffington Post and Vice being completely shuttered, their newsroom’s gutted.

So it’s like the space that’s being occupied by journalists who actually want to report on the trans community in ways that are beneficial is shrinking. And now it’s leaving this huge space for publishers who don’t care about our community to basically say whatever they want without any resistance. So that’s why encourage journalists who have been laid off, or who are looking to pivot in a different direction, to start a substack, to start a TikTok account, to start a podcast, to find ways to tell these stories in ways that circumvent the legacy media world, because they’re gonna filter our ideas and they’re gonna filter the trans voices. And so I ultimately think that’s going to be one of the long term solutions.

Trans Representation in Hollywood

IMARA JONES: Um, Eva, given your unique role as having been in the world of mainstream journalism and now in the world of, um, entertainment and Hollywood, I’m wondering what you see as the echoes between what you see, um, the way in which media coverage and mainstream press happens, and how it actually influences how Hollywood sees us and therefore, um, the roles that people are offered or the stories that get told?

EVA REIGN: That’s a good question. Um, I’m just kind of sitting with it. I’m like, Hmm. Well, you know, one thing that Hollywood does is Hollywood does chase the money, right? So pretty much anytime that Hollywood sees that there is a group of people that is “trendy,” you know, that’s like starting to pick up steam. That’s like, that is when we start to see that reflected back in shows and films, or even music. You know, I think one thing that, yeah, so with trans narratives, um, oddly enough, Hollywood was kind of one of the arenas that we started to see more positive representation. While that wasn’t always the case, you know, like, I mean, if you look back at like what was happening, um, pretty much anything like pre 2012 was pretty negative when it comes to trans representation, right?

The more we started to see different activists speak up and people slowly started to change their views on us, that is when we started to see more trans roles on television. Which, you know, they weren’t perfect. They were kind of clunky. And I think part of that is Hollywood saw that there was something that was eye catching about us, and they wanted to use that to garner more attention, to garner more views, um, to kind of have this like wow factor to all of their programs. We really suffered through all of that, and trans writers did also, uh, but, you know, thanks to people like Laverne [Cox] who were able to really like push through that, we then started to see this shift where, um, there was more positive representation of us. There was more holistic representation of us also, that kind of went beyond just like the coming out story and talk around like what body parts we have, but actually talked about who we are as people.

And like that led to shows like Pose that led to us seeing trans people just a part of people’s everyday lives on screen, whether that was Elliot Fletcher on Shameless or like Ian Alexander on Star Trek, and now we’re slowly starting to see more starring roles such as Tracy Ette and Monica, me with Anything’s Possible in Prime. You know, we’re starting to see this shift, but it is slow. I do think it’s steady. And I think that Hollywood is kind of like one of the few mediums that we have to like, show ourselves in a positive light, um, after, you know, yeah, like the shuttering of several newsrooms. Um, now that there are a number of trans people who do have strong platforms who are on talk shows, like going on there and talking about their lives, um, or on TikTok or on Instagram, you know, like, we have other ways to show our voices and show who we are.

But yeah, it gets tricky with Hollywood, you know. I think Hollywood, I think they don’t quite know how to always cast us in things because they don’t really understand who we are. They just know that they want to see trans people in different roles. But, you know, I mean, oftentimes when I get a breakdown for stuff, it’s not quite clear like what kind of trans person they’re looking for.

You know, it can be super broad. I mean, it’ll say they want like, you know, like a white guy with blonde hair who’s like really [muffled] or whatever. But then when it comes to trans people, it can just be as broad as like, um, like trans/genderqueer person ages 18 to 50.

And I’m like, what does that mean? You know, like, what exactly are you searching for? So I think, yeah, I think there’s a lot of ways in which people are slowly becoming educated on us. Even with like the negative, uh, the negative stories that we’ve seen from, you know, like, from the early 2000s, there’s, I mean, there’s lots of people who actually saw something positive in that, and it did shift how they viewed us. It made them think twice about how they interact with trans people. So every like, every little thing does count.

But I think the biggest thing that we can always do is to really make sure that we’re telling our stories accurately and make sure that the people who call themselves our allies, but they are also holding themselves to a higher standard on, you know, how they show up for us. Yeah.

IMARA JONES: Yeah. I think one of the questions, I mean, it’s interesting ’cause you’re saying that the roles are trickling in and they’re slightly getting better, but then you can get, have a situation where, you know, someone like Dave Chappelle is suddenly platformed and, you know, with anti-trans rhetoric, they have the biggest, streams of that year on Netflix. And so it’s the way in which like, even though there are these trickle of roles, you’re still contesting the images of trans people that still can garner huge audiences, right?

EVA REIGN: Absolutely. Yeah ’cause I mean, trans, I mean, transness is such a, it can be such a spectacle to different people, you know? And I think that is where a lot of the draw comes from. Especially when it comes to trans women. We have always been the most visible because people, um, people are very caught up on the whole notion of what makes a woman, what makes a woman appear attractive, what makes her appear not attractive, all these things.

And, and so, you know, even when we turn on very like far right media, likeFox News, they’re typically focusing on trans women, and they’re focusing on us and using the bathroom and us entering sports. And yeah, like when you go online, you see the major impact of, all these negative ideals and notions that are being output, with people very much focusing on this whole idea of like a man being in the bathroom, or a man being in a dress or whatever, whatever, whatever.

Um, it’s false. All of it is, you know, fueled by people who, probably don’t know us or maybe they do, or, you know, maybe they do know us in a very personal way, you know, I mean, we’ve seen that multiple times, but people who have the most to say about us are also the same ones who are hitting us up in our Instagram messages in the middle of the night, right? Um, you know, or they’re on Tinder or whatever dating app, you know, and they also are turning around and trying to save face by being so adamantly anti-trans.

And it is this big question of like, why are you so concerned with us? Um, why is there such a big spectacle of us in journalism? Because that is because that, that like gets clicks, right? That gets lots of clicks, that gets lots of traffic. Um, and, uh, you know, I think there’s….I think when it comes to the spectacle that sadly is what has, um, garnered more roles for us in, in Hollywood was, you know, that is also what has generated more storylines for us, and that also gives us so much more to push back against, you know?

And I think that’s why, um, you know, the fact that we all make our own media, that we all are showing our faces and being proud of who we are, that is such a powerful thing. Yeah. Because in this world with so much propaganda around our very being, it can be very easy for trans folks to feel that we can’t even walk outside our front door because we think that people are going to put this camera up to our face. You know, we see this on social media, we see it in the news.

Yeah, I think like the more that we just keep generating and the more that we keep showing up for our selves first and foremost, um, the more we will see a positive change in helping people like Dave Chappelle and all those other people who probably do have a fetish for us, we’re being totally honest, you know, the more we can get them to shut up and run their own damn business. So, yeah.

IMARA JONES: Yeah. I think as, um, as Trace Lysette said in her famous TikTok, um, framed Dave Chappelle as “it’s giving client,” yeah. So giving client.

Anti-Trans Violence Reporting in Local Newsrooms

IMARA JONES: Alright, Rebekah. I want you to help take us to two places where you know a lot about: the first is the way that anti-trans violence is reported in local newsrooms, and specifically in relationship to the murders of trans people, specifically Black trans women.

So take us into the things that they’re getting wrong and how those portrayals are harmful and what’s wrong, and then some of the thoughts you have about ways that, especially in local news, um, where and how things can change.

ARIELLE REBEKAH: Yeah, no, thanks for that question. So I think what’s so interesting about reporting on anti-trans violence is there’s basically this like one Facebook group called Trans Violence News, where all of the conversations, all of the initial reports about incidents of anti-trans violence, begin. And so it basically is like Sue Kerr of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents or a couple of other folks will post that they have heard about in the incident that happened somewhere in the U.S. or somewhere around the world. It is a global group, and basically all of the conversations of anti-trans violence start in that group.

Often what we will see is the way that folks in that group pick up on incidents of anti-trans violence in local media is by having something really awful Googled that was said. So like man in a dress, um, like, presenting as female, like all these things, but all these little buzzwords that we see in local newsrooms where we know that these are buzzwords indicating that generally transgender women, uh, or trans women broadly are being misgendered.

These are the buzzwords that folks in that group use to monitor local incidents of anti-trans violence, which is really freaking telling that that is how we pick up on these local incidents. And so to answer your question, you know, often there are all of these indicators that local newsrooms either intentionally ignore that indicate someone, a victim of violence was trans, or just lack the expertise understanding or desire to pick up on these indicators. And I think unfortunately, it is often this intentional lack of respect for transgender people because, you know, how I got my start in this work was reaching out to local reporters and saying, hey, you picked up on this incident with anti-trans violence. I have noticed that you have misgendered this person. I’ve noticed you called him [muffled]. I’ve noticed that you used a photo from before they transitioned. And as a reporter, you should care that this is inaccurate.

And that was sort of how I got my start in responding to anti-trans violence, was reaching out to journalists to get them to correct inaccurate reporting. And the reason I think it is intentional is because 9 times out of 10, they would respond to me if they responded at all and say, sorry, my local newsroom guidelines say that I have to report what was on this person’s ID. Or I have to report what the police are saying this person’s gender is. And no matter how many times I push back in this, no matter how many times I try to offer them guidelines for how to improve their strategy of reporting about trans people, there is very little shift.

And we’re starting to see some of that with progressive local news. Even in more right wing states, like even in Texas, there are a couple of local publications that are doing a much better job reporting on anti-trans violence.

IMARA JONES: Will you name them really quickly?

ARIELLE REBEKAH: Um, oh my God, I, it’s escaping me right now….but there, there are a number of local papers that have popped up, like dedicated to telling progressive stories within more right wing states. If I remember it, I’ll name it. But you know, by and large, it does seem like an intentional lack of respect for transgender people. And so there becomes this over reliance on people like Sue Kerr of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents to be the one to correct all of these stories. And, you know, there was a six week period of time where Sue was dealing with a personal problem in the fall, and there were like 10 incidents of anti-trans island that came up over that six week period of time that either weren’t reported on at all, or were reported on so disrespectfully without any regard for trans people’s lives. And because of this over reliance on this one Facebook group, that may be handling 20 of us active in it at any given time, unless people in that group are responding to it and doing this work, most of whom are doing it without being paid local news gets carte blanche to say whatever they want.

IMARA JONES: Yeah, I mean, I think that one of the things that is interesting sadly about local news reporting is not only do they do everything that you said, misgendering using the the wrong photos, all the rest of it, deadnaming, you know, all of the things that, I mean, should be utterly unthinkable in this age. But it is also the case that they rarely actually report on the people who have died as human beings.

So they talk about where they lived, how they died, what the police are doing about it, and quotes from local officials. They rarely have things about “this is where this person works, this is who loved them, this is what their friends and family are saying about them.” They don’t actually center them as human beings, which is kind of standard for other stories of people who were murdered. Like you center the person who was murdered as a––they’re human being. And then the other things are around that. And that’s one of the most glaring absences for me in the reporting on trans people and trans death.

ARIELLE REBEKAH: Yeah. And I think that this is so interesting that you bring that up. ‘Cause I mean that’s, and the, y’all all have these journalist guides on your seats and these, uh, the anti-trans one we just came out with in September and Serena and I worked on that together. Um, and that is, that is one of the things that we really see so often is this, um, this lack of recording on who trans people were in their lives. And what that leads to is a lack of inability of folks reading the stories, who actually comprehend that trans people are human beings, and this person that died was a person that had family, friends, loved ones coworkers, that they were a human being. And it just perpetuates the dehumanization that perpetuates anti-trans violence.

Because if you don’t see trans people as human beings similar to any other group that, you know, gets humanized — we are seeing this with Palestinians and Gaza right now — if we see the repeated dehumanization of a group of people over time, then it is very difficult to get the general public to become invested in finding solutions to the conditions that place them in harm’s way.

And so it feels, um, sometimes intentional or intentional lack of a desire to do it differently where local newsrooms are just not reporting on huge trans people where in life, probably because they aren’t personally invested in finding solutions to violence, they’re just like, well, this is a breaking news piece of a murder of this person that I don’t care about. And so I’m going to report on it as such, when the reality is one of the biggest indicators of, uh, one of the biggest factors that increases empathy for any group of people is portraying them as human beings with full robust lives and experiences. And we see when we tell trans stories to save trans lives, well, that increases empathy, empathy for transgender people and pushes the needle forward because more folks are invested in finding solutions to anti-trans violence and solutions to violence impacting all of our communities. Then we as a collective have the power to shift the narrative and to shift the conditions that places to harm’s way.

But if local media and media that by and large continue dehumanizing trans folks continue, you know, platforming groups like the freaking ADF [Alliance Defending Freedom] as “experts,” when their whole lane is targeting and increasing hate towards transgender people, then it becomes really difficult to push the needle forward, uh, in our fight.

IMARA JONES: Yeah it reminds me of…so, there was a gruesome murder, I think it was three years ago of Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, a Black trans woman in Philadelphia whose murder was among the most extreme that I’ve ever heard of. And if you read the details, I’m not gonna recount them, but they are almost in the realm of [Jeffrey] Dahmer, right? Like it’s wild what happened to her, in every single way. And I spoke to her mother about it. And one, her mother was never included in any of the articles that was written about her before she died, right? She was like “the world never knew that my daughter had a job, that she had a mom that loved her, that she had, a family that supported her, you know, the world never knew that about her.”

And the second thing I asked her was on this issue of humanity, I said, if you could be in a room alone with the person who murdered her, what would you say to him? And she said, “the thing that I would say to him is that my daughter was loved, right? That she was a person.” And that was so poignant to me. And that shows you what’s absent in everything that you’re saying.

What do you think are some of the solutions, before we kind of move the questions, what do you think are some of the solutions? ‘Cause you’ve also done a lot of thinking in terms of the guide that you all have worked on. Solutions in terms of reporting solutions. So what are the things you think the journalists can do to improve?

Tips for Improving Trans Reporting in Local Newsrooms

ARIELLE REBEKAH: Yeah, I mean, I think the number one thing is always talking to trans people. Always talking to family members of trans people. You know, the soundbite framing of nothing about us without us. Every story about trans lives, whether that is about anti-trans violence, anti-trans legislation, should always include trans voices and should always include the voices of those most impacted.

And so we know that poor and low-income families of trans youth are more impacted by anti-trans legislation because the ability to relocate out of state is significantly lower. We know that disabled trans youth face increased barriers to accessing healthcare. And so really thinking through not just about including trans people in general in reporting, but thinking through, okay, the issue that I’m reporting on is such and such thing. So, you know, if, if it is healthcare, okay, I know that ableism in healthcare, especially in the era of the Covid pandemic, prevents disabled and immunocompromised people in general from accessing healthcare because masks are not mandated in healthcare anymore.

How do I bring that angle into reporting on gender-affirming healthcare, knowing that disabled and immunocompromised trans youth can no longer access healthcare for now multiple reasons because of ableism in healthcare and because of transphobia in healthcare. You know, it is asking those questions of what the story I’m telling, who are those most impacted even with within the trans community, and how do I access those spokespeople.

And I think one of the recommendations that I would give is that Transgender Law Center, one of the things that we do is connect journalists with spokespeople who can speak on certain issues. And one of the series that we were launching in 2024 and 2025 is a series of webinars aimed at increasing familiarity with spokespeople around certain specific issue issue areas being anti-trans violence: medical band, athletics, disability justice and reproductive justice, and Christian nationalism to name [a few].

And so, you know, increasing familiarity with spokespeople who could speak on issues. And if you aren’t able to connect directly with a spokesperson or know someone offhand connecting with an organization like Transgender Law Center or your local Equality Federation representative organization or local ACLU to connect with spokespeople who can add the personal angle to the story you’re telling. Because as we’ve been talking about that personal connection, that humanization is what will push the needle for your readers in favor of solutions in regards to trans people. And not just like fatal anti-trans violence, anti-trans legislation, harassment. But you know, what happened to Nex Benedict, right? Like, these are the stories that we need to tell, including trans people to increase their empathy necessary to end violence towards our communities.

IMARA JONES: I would also add that like in addition to the TLC resources, that there are lots of other resources with regards to style guides for how people can write about these. So the Trans Journalist Association has a style guide. The NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists also has a style guide. I know that the New York Times, a lot of the journalists there were actually pushing for various parts of those to be incorporated into the way that the paper covers trans people. So the point here is that the things that journalists need to do are not a mystery, right? This is not like, you know, trying to figure out how to land on the polar axis of the moon, um, which is really hard. I dunno if you’ve seen the two things, but they both ended up upside down. So it’s a really hard thing to do, but this is not that hard.

Like, you actually, you actually have tons of resources to be able to tell you how to cover these things accurately. And so the point here is to urge people to actually use the things that are out there. This is not rocket science, and this is something that all of us have done in our jobs, all of us do routinely. It’s something that’s not that hard. Um, so I’m wondering if we can take time for questions. We may have 15 minutes or so for that. Um, if not, I can keep going.

ARIELLE REBEKAH: I’m pretty sure it’s Texas Tribune. I’m pretty sure that is what I’m talking about, but I can verify there.

IMARA JONES: So the microphone is here, please come up if anyone has any comments or reflections.


Trans Journalism in The Future

AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: What are you hopeful about in regards to trans journalism in the future?

SERENA DANIARI: Sure, that’s a great question because I think it’s easy with everything going on right now to feel defeated. And I know a lot of us in media and journalism and comms are feeling that constant burnout, that fatigue of logging online and seeing a news alert about one of our brothers, sisters, or siblings being murdered again or being a victim of anti-trans violence.

I’m hopeful about creating a journalistic environment where the rules on reporting about anti-trans violence go beyond, “don’t misgender, don’t deadname.” Like these are table stakes, right? These are the bare minimum of what we need to be doing as reporters. Our goal is to find the truth, okay? And I think one of the biggest issues is that — and we talk about this in our journalist guide at Transgender Law Center — there’s a need to push the framing beyond individual incidents of violence. As journalists, we need to zoom out and we need to connect the dots and find the extrapolations, find the connections between the acts of violence that are happening because incidents of anti-trans violence don’t happen in a vacuum, right? There’s a context beyond that.

What are the conditions, the societal ills, the societal failings, the conditions that create an environment where violence against trans people is so pervasive. I’m talking about a lack of equitable housing, a lack of employment opportunities, a lack of accessible healthcare. These are the conditions and we need to name them. So I see a lot of anti-trans violence [reporting] very much fixated on numbers, you know, the 15th trans person to be killed in 2024. And while it’s important that we track the pervasiveness of the violence, we also to address the underlying occurrence that enabled this violence to happen so regularly.

Because unless we name those larger issues, those looming issues, then we’re not gonna really be able to guide readers towards the solutions. And I think that’s what the goal of journalism should be right now. I mean, it’s interesting because I’ve reported a lot of anti-trans violence in my career. And in 2020 I kind of went from reporting on the story to being the story because I was attacked on the subway in New York City, and like the very next day it went viral and it blew up. And journalists were hounding me to get a quote or some sort of blurb about a traumatic incident. And I felt like journalists were trying to sensationalize it, you know, speaking about what I was wearing, what I was saying, what I maybe had done to contribute to this act of violence happening.

So we also need to shift away from victim blaming narratives because when a non-trans person is killed, we [trans people] never, you know, go “what did they do to deserve that? What did they say? What were they wearing?” So I think when we’re able to focus on the systemic issues, instead of focusing on what the victim did to deserve this horrible attack, that’s when we’ll get to a place solid reporting around these issues.

IMARA JONES TO EVA REIGN: What do you hope about in regards to the future of trans reporting?

EVA REIGN: Sorry, I was listening to you. What am I hopeful about? I’m hopeful that even with like the rise in anti-trans rhetoric in media, it’s also a rise in trans people on social media, right? Like I think now we’ve never seen this many trans people visibly online talking about their lives, talking about what they go through. I mean, that’s like honestly how I got my start. Like I would post on Instagram and then people would find me through whatever hashtag, um, and I was able to connect to other people in media. I mean, that’s how I learned who you were. You know, I read all of your stories from like, from like way back when and, you know, like seeing you gave me a lot of hope and I thought, okay, I guess there is some kind of avenue for me to tell my own story, right? And at first I thought, oh, like, who cares about me? I’m just like some random girl Missouri.

But the more I shared, the more people did care. I mean, with that, it can be tricky because I do think there are a lot of trans youth who I think they’re sharing a little too much online. Um, I do want to just kind of like, you know, just like, turn off your phones at times. So I’m like, you’re saying too much, you know, and like the whole world doesn’t need to know, um, all these things about your life, you know, like you are like a kid and I think you should really try to hold on to, um, that youth and your own right to privacy. Mm-Hmm. Um, but the fact that we do have the power to be our own voice, that also makes all of this like legacy media that, I mean, that makes them think twice about what they say when they know that someone has the platform to totally call them out on it, right?

A lot of journalists who have been transphobic, they tried to push back by saying, oh no, you’re trying to weaponize your platform against me.” You know, I mean that’s what happened when, I think it was Piers Morgan who interviewed Janet Mock back in like, was it like 2014? Yeah. He like tried to go off on her and, he just kind of showed his own colors and the evidence was there, there was no denying what his true intentions were in that moment. And I think that’s, I mean, it is very sad what happened to Janet in that moment. She did not deserve to go through that trauma, at the same time, that is a great example of the power that we do have thanks to the Internet, and thanks to a growing number of people who actually have empathy for who we are and are seeking to really understand us as best as they possibly can. So I think that’s what has me really excited. We’re seeing more and more people with that power.

IMARA JONES TO ARIELLE REBEKAH Mm-Hmm. What are you hopeful about?

ARIELLE REBEKAH: Have y’all seen how trans Gen Z and Gen Alpha are? It’s a sight to behold. I think that, you know, we’re seeing these like old school journalists in the legacy publications, they still have this sort of like, stronghold on media and that will continue to fade, and that is going to fade as Gen Z and Jen Alpha enter newsrooms, gain more power in journalism because one of the biggest things we need is more trans and trans-friendly folks in newsrooms telling these stories. And because of the shift in values even from like millennials to Gen Z and Gen Alpha, the shift is inevitable, right? Like, we are doing this work is important, and because we need to break the movable middle in our generations along, like we can’t like completely see the ground among folks that are telling great stories. Now, we can’t just like wait for, you know, Gen Z and Gena to come up into newsrooms. But I do think the shift towards support and affirmation for trans people in newsrooms is a tidal wave waiting to happen because of the young voices that are coming up in the newsrooms over the next five, 10 years.

IMARA JONES: Any other questions we have time for maybe one more before we wrap up?

AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Hi, my name’s Anne and I am a liberal Austin photojournalist and creative portrait photographer. I am here to represent a story of someone that I’m working with who is trans-masculine and has gone through cancer, surviving through the discovery of top surgery. And I just am hoping to make a connection because there’s an amazing story.

I’ve been working with this person now for six months to document the visual side of body transformation. And in that time period I’m becoming more educated and I’m understanding this like huge impact that my photos have for them to reflect back what they’re going through physically and the physical changes. And so I don’t really necessarily have a question, but I’m in a room full of potentially journalists and people that can help propel this story forward. So I just wanted to point myself out and unfortunately Ashton can’t be here to tell this story. So I appreciate all that you guys are doing and understanding more and more.

As someone who is Gen X and a 50-year-old, it is so enlightening to understand this broad spectrum of humanity and then be able to work in that realm of storytelling, even though I’m not a writer, it’s, it’s the photo journalist side of storytelling that I’m doing that forward with. So thank you. Yeah, thank you for that. I think that, um, one of the most important things is that we, you know, look to all of the ways and that we can tell stories, of course in photojournalism is, um, one of them. Any thoughts or advice?

SERENA JAZMINE: Just want to say that I would love to connect with you after, because I think between the four of us, we have a lot of connections in LGBTQ media, and I know plenty of editors, video producers, who I think would be really interested in hearing a unique trans story about gender-affirming care, presented in a way that I think most folks don’t conventionally think about. So yeah, I would love to touch base with you later.

ARIELLE REBEKAH: Also, just like, I can’t think of anything more humanizing and beautiful than just like a photo essay on trans joy affirmation, especially like through the angle that you’re coming in through. I just think that, you know, it is hard to miss it when you see trans joy, it’s so infectious. And I love our joy for that reason, because you just, there is no denying it if you have a desire to see it.

IMARA JONES: Well, we have to end this panel at this particular time. But just wanted to thank all of you all for all of your powerful and experienced, informed insights, and also to everyone in the audience for joining us. Thank you so much.

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TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.



TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.


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