This February, a large group of trans and/or non-binary people met with the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) in London. Previously, we interacted with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), (IPSO’s predecessor) so everyone was excited to see what progress had been made since the last meeting and discuss what more could be done to improve reporting of trans people.
IPSO is the independent regulator of the newspaper and magazine industry. They “exist to promote and uphold the highest professional standards of journalism in the UK, and to support members of the public in seeking redress where they believe that the Editors’ Code of Practice has been breached.” They handle complaints and concerns about editorial content in newspapers and magazines, and about the conduct of journalists.
With pilot Ayla Holdom facilitating the interaction, the group met with complaints officers, directors and co-ordinators to discuss media representation and challenges trans people may face in school:
“I’ve followed IPSO (& PCC’s) work since 2013, when All About Trans held a first meeting with them and was extremely pleased that they re-engaged with the community to facilitate the revision of existing guidelines… It was fantastic meeting with their staff and being given the opportunity to normalise trans experiences – I hope this now feeds into the new guidance and good practice later in 2016. I look forward to seeing how IPSO’s guidelines and supporting resources develop from here and hope they will continue to engage with the trans community for feedback and advice”. Ayla Holdom, All About Trans
Trans teachers in the media
During the interaction, participants talked about news stories that are written solely about teachers being trans. In these articles, trans teachers are often presented as ‘troublesome’ and the published tone is that of concern for young people’s welfare. One volunteer argued that there would never be an article written about a teacher being gay, so why focus on the teacher being trans.
Another volunteer added to this point. She said that schools have the power to either realise that being trans isn’t a problem and support the individual teacher or pupil, or they can make it into a problem. It’s down to each individual school to act with good practice and many already do.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot today, and I’ve done it through the means of a friendly chat, which is a great way of learning new things.” – Bianca Strohmann, Senior Complaints Officer, IPSO
Children in the media
One IPSO staff member said that there has been progress made in reporting trans matters since the meeting with the PCC in 2013. However, there now needs to be a particular improvement in the way children and young people transitioning are portrayed. She said this is an important next step as awareness and visibility of trans people grows.
Positive role models and understanding of terminology
A few members of the group expressed that they didn’t come out as trans until later in life. Many know from a young age that they are trans but some people didn’t come out partly because of the lack of trans role models in the media. One person said that it was only when she watched Dana International on Eurovision, that she related to the singer and realised she was trans.
Another person highlighted that in the past, even when there was trans portrayal in the media, it was often inauthentic. This had a knock-on effect when they went to their GP, where the level of knowledge on trans experiences was often very low and there was a general lack of understanding of gender identity and terminology.
The discussion highlighted poor media representation of trans people and how important it is to have positive role models for young people. Everyone agreed that with more role models in the media, over time there will be a better understanding and increased use of trans terminology amongst the general public.
“I think it’s nice to know that people want to hear about trans and non-binary experiences at IPSO…[it’s good] that people want to meet face to face and talk about these issues in a positive way.” Volunteer, All About Trans
Power of the media
A powerful point was made about the impact of transphobic or inaccurate media pieces on trans people’s lives. The group commented on certain articles being very offensive, and IPSO staff gathered a better insight into why someone might complain to them about an article or comment piece.
One non-binary person summed up the effect of negative representation very clearly by describing how offended they were when their GP told them they were transgender. Before they understood what the term meant, their knowledge of what trans was came from stereotypical television programmes and they believed trans to be a negative trope.
Sex education and teaching gender identity in schools
The group agreed on the importance of teaching pupils about gender identity in schools. Ayla pointed out that it would make conversations about gender easier, which could have a positive impact on those coming out as trans.
During the interaction, Ciaran Cronin, an IPSO Complaints Officer from Ireland, had an in depth chat with an Irish trans person about the poor LGBT+ education in Irish schools. They wondered how improved learning and more awareness could be incorporated into the curriculum and whether younger pupils could have access to it.
The group touched on how sex education can sometimes make young people feel awkward or nervous, and talking confidentially to a school nurse about sex and gender can be more useful as it’s a safe space to ask questions. Some members of the group wondered if gender education in sex education classes would be too confusing.
One volunteer gave an example of a school which held an LGBT+ week. During this awareness week, they covered gender education across a range of subjects, including biology and religion. They thought this was really effective way to bring trans matters into schools in the context of other subjects.
As the meeting came to an end, the general feeling in the room was that IPSO staff’s understanding of trans experiences and challenges had increased. Volunteers had made the group aware of specific areas that trans people face difficulty in, such as media representation, schools and the healthcare system. It was clear that Complaints Officers would be better equipped to understand and assist trans-related complaints in the future, having had honest and open conversations with the group of trans people. These conversations fed into the new guidelines released by IPSO 5th October, which were intended to improve the way that journalists on research and report stories involving transgender individuals.
If you are interested in hearing more about the project, please get in touch.
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