PLUS: With gendered language, news organizations have catching-up to do


Courtesy of Alamy

Non-binary people’s identities should be recognized in society.

“We usually can erase your identity, and we always want to.”

That’s the hurtful notice sent by America’s largest newspapers to transgender and non-binary people each and every year. The source of this messaging is not in front-page stories or widely-read editorials, though. Rather, it comes from a less predictable, more subtle place within the labyrinth of media operations: the style guides.

For much of American history, news organizations have entirely ignored the existence of genders outside of the traditional male/female binary. Only recently have societal progressions forced them to recognize, in some way, the existence of gender non-comforming communities. Their response has been poor, focused on continuing to avoid the issue as much as possible and protecting less informed consumers from anything that might confuse them. This has to change.

In the Associated Press style guide, which is adhered to by most major news organizations in the U.S., an entry on gender non-conforming pronouns states “Rewording usually is possible and always is preferable.” At the New York Times, the paper’s own style guide also guides journalists to at times write around gender-neutral pronouns and honorifics other than Mr. and Ms.

This common practice in the media industry of prioritizing readers’ convenience over LGBTQ+ people’s identities has to change. For many transgender and non-binary people, it can feel invalidating to see publications take special care to avoid terms that represent who they are. Publications should seek to educate readers on they/them pronouns, diverse identities, and how to read and understand news reports that respect those identities.

The future of this country is one in which people of all gender identities are accepted and welcomed in our communities. With recent research showing that more young people than ever before are coming out as transgender or non-binary, this coming reality is inveitable. It is up to our nation’s media to meet the moment and make LGBTQ+ people feel accepted in their writing as soon as possible.