Challenging transphobia in the media: a 13-step guide

Our guest writer Claire Mullaly, a trade unionist and LGBTQ+ activist, discusses with Trans Media Watch all about challenging transphobia in the media: the 13 steps to beat the ‘active violence of silence’.


The announcement by the government on the consultation of the reform of the Gender Recognition Act (2004) is wholeheartedly welcomed by the LGBTQ+ community as a step away from a highly medicalised, bureaucratic and degrading process to acquire gender recognition. With this public consultation announcement and its subsequent delays, a spike in transphobia has been apparent.

We must, as the LGBTQ+ community, as workers, as trade union members, as activists and as allies provide a space for trans people to be visible and safe in the knowledge that they are not alone.

The trans community’s struggle is constant and hard fought, with still almost half of trans school pupils in the UK having attempted suicide, one in nine pupils receiving death threats and eight out of ten young trans people having self-harmed. With this in mind, inviting Germaine Greer onto a discussion panel on the recent Channel 4 Genderquake show was astounding, in that it enabled transphobia, and was described by Mermaids – a charity for transgender children and young people – as “entertainment based upon legitimising hate”. This must stop.

Speaking out, taking direct action, and educating others is critical to our trans comrades’ safety and wellbeing. We must call out transphobia when we see it.

I recently spoke with Cat Burton and Jennie Kermode from Trans Media Watch – a group that helps people in the media to understand these issues and also empowers trans and intersex people who are interacting with the media to get fair results. They want to see an end to the prejudice, bigotry and hate routinely directed at trans people and they want the media to play its role in no longer fuelling these things.

We must, as the LGBTQ+ community, as workers, as trade union members, as activists and as allies provide a space for trans people to be visible and safe in the knowledge that they are not alone.

Both Cat and Jennie identified the web, printed media and television as areas that can be exploited by a small number of people to drive an unrepresentative transphobic agenda.

What should we do if we see transphobia in the media?

Jennie Kermode has written a 13-step plan:

1.  Start by understanding that you will never change everybody’s mind. What matters is reaching people who may be swayed by transphobic material but are still open to changing their minds.

2. Get to know the Editor’s Code. If you want to complain about a newspaper article, your complaint will need to show that it has breached this code.

3.  Get to know the Ofcom Code. This is what you will need to reference if complaining about something on television or radio.

4.  Understand that your complaint can make a difference. Regulators typically receive very few.

5.  Leave positive comments on articles about trans people. Don’t get drawn into arguments. Even if it gets down-voted, a positive comment can reach people emotionally and make them think, as well as helping trans readers to feel less alone.

6.  Use social media to challenge transphobic material in the traditional media. Try to be calm in your approach and explain why it has got it wrong.

7.  Use social media to boost positive items about trans people and, especially, the work of trans writers, filmmakers and broadcasters.

8.  Question lack of balance and ‘false balance’. If trans rights are being discussed in the media, is there a trans person there to participate? If there is, is that person a fair, sensible choice for the discussion? Too often, we see inexperienced young trans people put up against transphobic university professors in their fifties.

9.  Question lack of opportunity. Are trans people on television or radio given the same amount of time to speak as people attacking trans rights? Are they given right to reply in transphobic newspaper articles and, if so, do they get an equivalent number of column inches?

10.  Raise these issues with your friends to help make them more aware of discrimination and unfairness.

11.  Listen to a cross-section of trans people; they will tell you if there is a problem with something you initially thought was okay.

12.  If a form of media is repeatedly posting or producing transphobic material, boycott it and contact its advertisers to tell them why you are doing so. Ask them if they really want their brands to be associated with prejudice.

13. Remember that being a good ally means educating yourself. Follow Trans Media Watch on Twitter to find out more about how the media is treating trans people. Follow Trans Actual to learn more about the difference between media-generated myths and the realities of trans people’s lives.

Poet and writer Travis Alabanza recently said:

“Currently in the UK, trans people are under an epidemic of multiple types of violence, physical, medical, verbal, and from all angles – we need media programming to reflect this urgency with nuanced conversations centring our voice – not sensationalist harm.”

So, let’s use the 13-step plan to change the media narrative and actively call out transphobia and end what Travis Alabanza refers to as the “active violence of silence”.

You can follow Trans Media Watch on Twitter (@TransMediaWatch)