It is never worth it to give yourself up for someone else to be a little more comfortable. You’re not living my life, you are going to die at some point and I have to keep living.”-Axel Moss of Equality Michigan
Thursday, July 25th, three speakers (virtually and in-person) attend a panel to speak on transgender issues and their relevance to journalism. The panel is made of Jonathan Gaston-Falk of Student Press Law Center (SPLC), Kalib Watson, a Michigan State University alumni who has participated in trans research, and Axel Moss of Equality Michigan.
Here’s a brief history on transgender news in Michigan and nationally in 2023:
- On a state level, in March 2023, Governor Whitmer signed Senate Bill 4 reaffirming civil rights protections for sexual orientation and expanding coverage to include gender identity.
- Nationally, in May 2023, China shut down the last LGBTQ+ center in Beijing.
While Michigan may be attempting to move towards LGBTQ+ inclusion, that is not the case across all of the state, the world, or even the country. Trans Legislation Tracker tracks the above 500+ Anti-Trans laws introduced in the United States in 2023 alone.
Sara-Beth Badalamente, Summer Workshop Director, said, “It’s our job as journalists” to cover controversial issues, issues which are not necessarily new.
“This has not been necessarily new with journalism. If you’re going to cover a group that has been marginalized and is afforded benefits, these are histories we’ve been able to tackle,” Gaston-Falk said.
When covering topics such as the fight for transgender rights, Jonathan Gaston-Falk tells young journalists to always be careful with using the appropriate language.
“Using language in appropriate ways is a bare bone thing to consider when tackling some of these issues,” Gaston-Falk said.
With headlines filled with the recent Tennessee bans on drag queens, Moss states that these laws imply a window towards laws against transgender individuals.
“[Legislation] doesn’t immediately ban abortion, they start with childcare. These drag bans have been a way to attack trans people without being direct,” Moss said. “It is not always one issue.”
Many student journalists questioned how to properly approach transgender issues given current debates surrounding the topic.
According to Moss and Gaston-Falk, here are some things people can do to help advocate for transgender issues in their hometowns:
Vote for the legislation you hope to see. “It really does depend on who is in office,” Gaston-Falk said.
- Care About People
“Being able to sit in a class and go ‘okay I can breathe here’ means the world,” Moss said. Creating safe spaces for everyone, no matter their belief, is important, especially in the context of employment and education.
- Help humanize transgender indivisuals so they don’t have to always act as representatives of their entire community
As Madeline Kitchen of Grosse Pointe South High School asked, “Do you have any tips for student journalists on how to avoid burdening individual trans students with the task of speaking for the entire community?”
“This is a real person. This is your neighbor. This is a part of humanity,” Moss said. Transgender people exist in settings most don’t even realize, such as school, the workplace, in friendships and even in family. This realization can help against transphobic ideology.
- Attend school board meetings
Starting on the local level allows students to be able to have a say on the laws directly affecting their community.
With this in mind, Moss elaborates that “[people] keep deleting our history then telling us we don’t exist.”
As young journalists, this message speaks to the crowd that telling stories, especially those deemed controversial, is necessary to preserve the present so it serves as history.
“Just stay tuned because the pendulum keeps swinging,” Gaston-Falk said.
Want to Learn more?
Click here for a list of Transgender Organizations
Transgender people in crisis should contact the following resources:
- The Trevor Project‘s 24/7/365 Lifeline at 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386) or TrevorChat, their online instant messaging option, or TrevorText, a text-based support option. If you are looking for peer support, you can visit TrevorSpace from anywhere in the world.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
- Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860