Tuesday • 2015.06.09
When Editorial Policies Out Trans People, Discrimination Goes Unreported
Not everyone is able to be out and proud. Even now in 2015, for a significant portion of the trans population, being outed would mean being fired or disowned, made homeless, beaten or even killed. Or for some, just embarrassed and ashamed— But it’s not our place to judge strangers in their own circumstances. It must be left up to each person when and how they come out. And just because a person isn’t ready to come out doesn’t mean their story shouldn’t be told.
In a journalistic piece, it stands to reason that attributing a person’s quote with a traceable name conveys a higher degree of accountability. So when a journalistic publication enforces a strict policy against pseudonyms, it creates an extra cushion of safety for the editorial staff, who are responsible (and ultimately liable) for that publication’s journalistic integrity.
Yet, an interesting problem arises when a story for that publication is about an incident of discrimination against a marginalized person or group.
Every week or two, I’m contacted by someone who’s been victim to some form of discrimination, by a company or by the government. As an independent journalist, having access to media outlets like Daily Xtra is fantastic, because it extends my reach to attract greater public attention to serious issues— But only when I’m able to report those issues. A policy requiring traceable names complicates matters immensely, because some people only feel safe giving quotes anonymously.
“Carter Estevez” is a real person, but that’s not his real name (although his identity is known to me and my editors). Last year, I interviewed Estevez for a story about transgender discrimination— Not as a trans person, but rather because he had an experience with the same service provider that was coincidentally similar. “I’d really rather they not use my name,” he explained. “I just don’t want it coming up when someone googles me, it might interfere with my work.” Now Estevez may or may not be trans, but just having his name mentioned in a transgender news story could imply to some people that he is, thus opening him up to invidious gossip and discrimination.
I fought an uphill battle with my editor over Estevez. “We have to use a real name” as a matter of policy, I was told, or be forced to drop his quotes from the piece—But his experience was highly relevant to the story. It was challenging and time-consuming to negotiate a compromise to satisfy everyone.
Editorial standards are evolved and refined over time. It wasn’t so long ago that Xtra, citing editorial standards, refused to respect non-binary gender pronouns of genderqueer interview subjects. Grassroots elements of the trans community joined together with Xtra, and created a learning experience for everyone involved, and that editorial position was appropriately refined.
So a source doesn’t want their name used. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been verified: It’s the job of a responsible journalist and her editors to fact-check. If they perform due diligence, confirm the identity and veracity of the subject to a reasonable degree (which was done in this case), then why should publishing a traceable name be necessary?
For trans stories to be properly and fairly told, a different standard is needed: Perhaps one which harkens back to the past. Through the 70’s and 80’s incarnations of Pink Triangle Press, in the early days of Xtra and The Body Politic before it, there were many stories in which gay men and boys (and some lesbians) were quoted by pseudonym. After all, it was a very different time for the LGB community: So many lived in fear that the consequence of being outed might mean being fired, disowned, made homeless, beaten or even killed. Or for some, just embarrassed and ashamed.
It’s great that those editorial standards have been free to evolve over time, but perhaps it is time for refinement: Take a note from the past to help lead to the future, in support of queer siblings who have yet to advance as far.
This article originally appeared in DailyXTRA.