Objectivity is a Myth

Trans Broadcaster Fired for “Having a Problem With Authority”

Stel Kline, a trans journalist and radio news host, was recently fired from South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) after being told that they were “not objective and have a problem with authority.” Kline announced the news on Twitter, saying “there are now 0 trans journalists working at [SDPB].”

Kline joined SDPB in October to host NPR’s local Morning Edition. Despite the surface inclusivity this hiring might have represented, Kline noted that the SDPB was intent on erasing any reference to a trans journalist.

During their first day on the job, the article announcing Kline’s hiring had all uses of their pronouns (they/them) removed and replaced with their last name. “When confronted, the director said he wanted me to make the best impression with listeners—so they would judge my stories and voice without being clouded by the fact that I am trans,” Kline explained. “The director of journalism content added that it would be a grammar issue for the older readers.”

While they were encouraged to share their experiences working at SDPB on social media, this courtesy only went so far according to Kline. When they shared that they had been harassed for being trans, they faced immediate criticism. “The director of journalism content tells me I have lost credibility,” said Kline. “That I am not objective.”

All in all, Kline took the accusation that they were not objective and unyielding to authority as a compliment. But they added, “In my interview, I was very clear that as a trans person I am unable to be impartial about attacks on my humanity. Objectivity is not a static identity, but when wielded as such becomes the language of those with the most power.

“Declaring someone not objective is a selective practice used effectively to exclude POC / queer journos. This is old news but not old practice.”

As SDPB is owned by the state, Kline is currently pursuing a wrongful termination appeal. Ahead of doing so, they invoked the legacy of Terri Bruce, another trans South Dakota state employee who fought equal treatment under the law up to his tragic passing.

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