13 July 2017

Engaging with the media – interview skills and peer support for trans people

Blogged by Kate Llewellyn, Project Coordinator

Trans and non-binary people are often invited to speak on television panels, asked to give a quote or be interviewed in a newspaper, and requested urgently to guest on the radio. With a growing visibility of the trans community, these requests increase. Doing brilliant work, they step into the spotlight to raise awareness of trans matters, experiences and challenges.

However, these individuals can struggle with media engagement – not because they are unskilled, but because there are specific myths and questions that must be faced and challenged. Take for example the recent interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain between Piers Morgan, Fox Fisher and Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir (Owl). On live television, they helped the UK to gain a better understanding of non-binary experiences and talked about supporting trans children and young people to be themselves. Yet appearing across from someone who is debating and questioning your existence is a problem – it makes the interview an extremely hard task, puts pressure on the interviewee and can lead to a ‘hangover’ of worry and anxiety after the engagement.

A need for media training

The trans community has long called for bespoke media training for individuals who are engaging with the media and helping to raise awareness of what it means to be trans.  A course was needed that addressed challenging lines of questioning, encouraged people to support each other with media engagements and practise responding to hard interviews with prepared key messages. It’s important for interviewees to be confident and prepared to make the most of the often short window of opportunity they have during interviews.

That’s why All About Trans has been working with consultants, advisors and members of the community over the last few years to develop a media training course suited exactly to the needs of trans and non-binary people. We did this through an online nationwide survey, asking for the top three challenging topics being discussed in the media, employing the ad-hoc Project Assistant Owl to provide consultation and facilitation, and using guidance from our All About Trans Advisory Group which helped to shape the courses. Several organisations around the UK have also been addressing this need, including Glaad.

Delivering the courses

We were pleased to be able to deliver two days of Engaging with the Media training courses in June, which saw 17 trans and non-binary people facing a full bank of lights, camera and microphones as they practised live studio set-up interviews, learnt how the media works, practised peer support and how to prepare for interviews. These were facilitated by the On Road Media team, Owl, experienced media trainer and former broadcaster David Thomas, and two guest journalists; the award-winning Paris Lees and Helen Pidd, North of England editor of The Guardian.

“Great insight into preparing and conducting media interviews.” Participant.

Practice interviews and reflections

Each person had the opportunity to practise speaking to 3 journalists in a ‘live studio set-up’ in TV, radio and print formats, and to also interview each other on flip cameras, stepping into the shoes of a journalist. Throughout this exercise and the training generally, delegates practised self-care, peer support and recognising that engaging with the media can be emotionally draining. A key focus of the day was on how to look after yourself when collaborating with the media. One delegate talked about self-care being a group task – having friends to look out for you and taking responsibility for any support needed, knowing that you’ll do the same when it’s their turn.

“It would be amazing to have more time to practise interviews and receive feed back from them. The course itself was fantastic I can’t recommend it enough…my only feed back is I wish there were more or it was spread over two days to make sure every thing was absorbed. Thanks again for a fantastic day I feel much more confident…” Participant.

People’s confidence in engaging with the media increased by 20% as a result of the course. Participants said they’d make sure to prepare for interviews, having a few key phrases or soundbites to use beforehand. They felt less worried about asking for payment, setting ground rules and taking back control. Everyone was tired but inspired by the end of the day and delegates’ trust in the media had gone up by 30%.

“Really useful and enjoyable day, thank you all so much for organising and presenting such a successful day. Learned a lot. Lovely to meet so many friends and make some new ones as well. A truly special day.” Participant.

Partners and participants

We were delighted to collaborate with Channel 4 in London and The LGBT Foundation in Manchester as they kindly offered us their venue space. Thank you also to The Proud Trust for their delicious lunch.

“I used to see journalists as the enemy really and now I know they can be helpful.” Participant.

Delegates attended from across England, Wales and Scotland, with representatives from: Action for Trans Health, Diversity Role Models, LGBTIQA+ Greens, Space Youth Dorset, Gendered Intelligence, Stonewall Cymru, The Proud Trust, Rainbow Noir, The LGBT Foundation, NUS, Trans Workers UK, Trans Girls Can, Wipe Out Transphobia, Unique Transgender Network, TSMU Cardiff, TransForum Manchester and Butterflies, as well as academics, actors and trainers. Providing a space for meeting and connecting with each other was important and networking has continued following the course.

Made possible by the support of the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, through the People’s Postcode Trust, the training courses in Manchester and London gave trans activists the confidence and techniques to engage successfully with the media with resilience and care.

Keep an eye on our resources page in the coming months as we’re aiming to share tips and techniques for engaging with the media, handouts which can be useful for everyone to have.

All About Trans