Lately, before I report the day’s news, I have to take a beat, maybe cry it out a little.
It started in June with the death of Cathalina Christina James, the third transgender homicide victim in Jacksonville, Florida this year (it’s now five in the state). Nineteen transgender people have been reported murdered in 2018, most of them women of color.
I’m a non-binary white transmasculine person—these stories are mine, and they’re also not mine at all. I cover prison abuse, hate crimes, healthcare, discrimination, voter disenfranchisement and the unending crusade to undermine the basic dignities of transgender people every day.
In June, I asked another trans reporter if covering the community got easier with time. No, she wrote. She is more affected, and it compounds burnout.
With all of this violence directed at my community, I yearn for a journalism community to mourn and rejoice with. But there is a particular kind of pain when your own “safe” spaces prove injurious.
I didn’t go to the NLGJA national convention this year. I have in the past. In 2013, I won their Excellence in News Writing Award and was runner-up for their Sarah Pettit LGBT Media Journalist of the Year. The following year, I served as a judge for their awards.
I took a four-year hiatus from queer media because I couldn’t make a living in it. While working in mainstream media, I attended NLGJA gatherings in Boston a few years ago. More than a few members were happy to have me— they needed “more women,” I was told, “or you know, however you identify.”
This year, I find that the community I left has barely advanced.
On Sunday, Fox News hosted the NLGJA convention closing, as TransGriot’s Monica Roberts, a tireless voice for trans people, pointed out:
Marshall McPeek, an Ohio-based meteorologist and volunteer emcee, greeted the group with “Ladies and gentlemen, things and its.”
— Mary Emily O'Hara (@MaryEmilyOHara) September 9, 2018
Roberts called back, “there are no things or its here.”
McPeek later took the stage to apologize, stating it was the wrong venue for such a joke (because it would have been fine elsewhere, apparently). He resigned his membership.
Just shy of 12 noon here in the east. @nlgja any thoughts? how long do we let this go before we assume the silence means this is just not a big deal to them?
Also kinda notice the lack of an actual T in your organization's name, but surely–surely!–this is just an oversight. https://t.co/RXheqG8lqD
— Jennifer Finney Boylan 🐕 (@JennyBoylan) September 9, 2018
After an uncomfortable silence, NLGJA also apologized.
— NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists (@nlgja) September 9, 2018
Like Boylan, it has always struck me, in a way that felt impolite to call out, that NLGJA, GLAAD, PFLAG, GLSEN, ILGA and many others, never updated their names to reflect that they serve bisexual people, transgender people, and the ever-expanding umbrella. They simply stopped spelling out the acronym and pretended that the “L” and “G” stood for “LGBTQ+.”
Everyone knows GLAAD (The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is what the acronym used to stand for) and NLGJA (The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association — they changed the name but The Hill didn’t get the memo, and who can blame them?). Those are big brands. So instead of sacrificing name recognition, we sacrificed the same communities we always have.
And that’s a hard thing for me to admit because I love NLGJA, and GLAAD has poured hours into tracking trans homicides for my own reporting, work the organization is largely not recognized for.
But as NLGJA noted in their apology, “we understand uniquely that words matter.”
We can shame Marshall McPeek for the rest of time, but we own his words. This is the culture we created and continue to feed. What other transphobic statements has McPeek made among NLGJA colleagues that went unchecked? Based on my own experiences, they wouldn’t be outliers.
The stories we tell in queer media are a true labor and unparalleled privilege. Sometimes they mean staring down the most unconscionable abuses against our own. Sitting together should be a reprieve, but for many of us, that remains a little perilous.
Gender diverse reporters are increasingly complicating the stories traditionally told by cisgender journalists. Marshall McPeek could be another one of our failures in queer media. But if we’re honest, and brave enough, we’d admit that his words are the reckoning we need. The story starts with us.
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