Last month, I – along with many LGBTQ+ organizations – called out The New York Timesfor its erroneous and dangerous reporting about the transgender community. My column, "On Trans Issues, The New York Times is Dead Wrong," explained that there is no trans “argument” or “issues.” They are human beings and should be treated that way by members of the media.
I also likened media coverage to how climate change used to be covered with stories that included "climate skeptics." This had the effect of confusing people about climate change. Skeptics are no longer included in climate stories (climate change is real), but skeptics are still included in transgender stories (trans people are real). In, fact, some of the reporters seem to be skeptics themselves.
I spoke with Dr. Katarina Ferrucci, who specializes in understanding the quality of care among gender-minority individuals in the U.S., and that includes the trans youth population. Imagine your entire reality being questioned, Ferrucci says. “Treating it as an issue that includes the ‘trans skeptics’ as you refer to them, directly calls into question the legitimacy of someone’s existence and the procedures and treatments that can help someone feel aligned in the way that their body and mind are informing them is correct."
This week, newly released episodes of the podcast, The Anti-Trans Hate Machine, examines how the Times continues to include anti-trans science and Christian and extremists' ideals despite protests from some staff members who were allegedly rebuffed.
The latest episode of the podcast includes new research claiming that nearly 10,000 words that made front-page news covering trans youth in 2022 were "trans-skeptical."
The last week has revealed even more egregious writing by two of the Times top columnists (one a personal favorite), as well as CNN’s Ryan Young misgendering — not once but twice — trans influencer and model Dylan Mulvaney, and even mispronouncing her first name.
Before I begin, I reached out, twice, to both the Times and CNN for responses to questions. CNN sent me a link to a brief apology from CNN anchor Kate Bolduan. When I asked if Young would be issuing an apology, there was no response. Misgendering once, as a slip, not acceptable of course, but twice? Is there something behind that redundancy?
Now to the Times. On July 7, Frank Bruni, a longtime Times journalist, who is gay, wrote, "Establishing guidelines for the age at which it’s appropriate for children in public schools to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity is legitimate." And that’s where he left it; almost as an afterthought, without thinking about the implications, and with nary a worry that he spoke up for the far-right.
These extremists, fueled by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, are trying to create wedge issues around the edges of the LGBTQ+ community, like the appropriateness of discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. This is one of DeSantis’s favorite issues. He’s over the moon when a supposed liberal like Bruni fans the flames about it. Without thinking, I suppose, Bruni fell right into the DeSantis trap.
Republicans are creating phony issues because they have no platform and stand for nothing. There were no hot debates about drag queens, trans youth, or sex education in schools until DeSantis and his ilk whipped up a frenzy.
I spoke with Tennessee State Representative Gloria Johnson, one of the Tennessee three, and she summed it up for everyone when she said that in her 20 years in the state House, her constituents weren’t bringing up these issues — ever.
Bruni’s single line shows a detachment from not only how his words could be utilized as weapons by the far right in their hate campaign against LGBTQ+ youth, but also dispassion for how revving up these “debates” on appropriateness would affect LGBTQ+ youths. They would be caught in the middle, subjected to hate speech at public school board hearings, and made to feel that they are doing something wrong. Likewise for kids who have same-sex parents.
Moreover, these debates about “guidelines” would most assuredly send a message to straight youth that there is something wrong with being a queer youth, making it even more dangerous than it already is for these frightened and often bullied children.
I did a column with Bruni a few years back focusing on how we're both the same age. He surely remembers how the word “gay” or “homo” or “queer” was bandied about in grade schools back in the ‘70s, and how those slurs were a sucker punch that made you feel less than.
If he thinks it’s “appropriate,” can he tell us why it's appropriate to establish guidelines now, versus five years ago, or even two years ago? Maybe that’s worth a column, an explanation as to why now — right now? And why is he parroting the far-right panic?
We know what happens already for all those adversely affected by “guidelines”: “don't say gay.” That’s where it all started. It mushroomed, and anyone, particularly anyone that has a voice who validates “appropriate guidelines,” is repeating the animus behind “don’t say gay.”
Last Spring, Neal Broverman, editorial director for equalpride (The Advocate's parent company), and his husband, Robbie, were traveling on an Amtrak train, accompanied by their 6-year-old son and 5-year-old foster child when a fellow passenger approached them.
The man said to their son, "Remember what I told you earlier. They stole you and they're pedophiles.” They also said that the man was very aggressive, screaming at the family how gay people were an abomination. The man had to be removed from the train by at least a dozen armed Santa Clara County police officers; the children were terrified. This hate, this use of “pedophile,” and marking gays as an abomination, is rooted in the “appropriate guidelines” debate of “don’t say gay.”
I reached out to Broverman. He is a dear friend and one of the wisest and loving people I know. I asked him what he thought of Bruni's comment. “I am very disappointed, as a journalist and a gay parent. He should know that there is no school that is teaching children, certainly elementary-age children, about the 'ins and outs' of queer sex.”
He added, “I think even a school board in the Castro would erupt at that. What schools are introducing to kids now is the knowledge that there are different types of families and individuals. e.g., many kids have a mom and a dad; some have one mom; some are raised by a grandma; and some have two dads or two moms. That's not pushing the envelope; that's laying out reality.
Broverman added that this also applies to gender identity: “No one is talking to 1st-graders about the intricacies of gender-confirmation surgery. What teachers should be able to express is that some children identify as girls when they were raised as boys and vice-versa. Differences are natural and ok to discuss. Bruni capitulating to the hysteria is reductive."
This brings us to Times conservative columnist Brett Stephens. He and his colleague, liberal columnist Gail Collins do a piece together each week called “The Conversation.”
On July 10, Stephens wrote, "But a lot of people — including many Democrats and independents — have honest and serious concerns about some aspects of the trans issue, especially as it concerns the integrity of women’s sports, the morality of drastic medical interventions in teenagers and the anti-scientific denial of basic biology when it comes to questions of sex. I also detest terms like 'bodies with vaginas' as a substitute for 'women.' It isn’t a sensitive or inclusive use of language; it’s misogynistic and Orwellian."
Where to begin? First, instead of calling him out, Collins abruptly changed the subject to immigrants and homelessness, conflating the two, but that’s a whole other story. Stephens, again, like his other colleagues, callously talks about the “trans issue.” These are human beings, Brett.
Want proof? The American Medical Association (AMA) defines transgender as “an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.”
Notice, they are persons. Not issues. They have lives, brothers, sisters, friends. They have feelings, and Stephens stepped all over these human beings.
These human beings are athletes who bravely fight for their right to participate in the sports they love. When you start excluding them, they become people who are "different" and "not accepted." And that can have a profound impact on their mental health, as we all know.
There are already rules and guidelines about trans people in sports. If Stephens would have done his due diligence, he would have found that World Athletics says that all athletes "with a difference in sex development would be barred from competing internationally in all events unless they reduced their testosterone to 2.5 nanomoles per litre for a minimum of six months."
Stephens uses words like "cruelty" and "drastic" to explain transitioning, conveniently avoiding any nuance. These kids have a rigorous process they go through before they begin any transitioning, and medicine and science — not to mention, their parents and doctors — support these kids who, like Ferucci said above, just want to be believed.
In June, the AMA passed a resolution, drafted by The Endocrine Society to protect access to evidence-based gender-affirming care for transgender and gender-diverse youth, noting “it is the responsibility of the medical community to speak out in support of evidence-based care.”
And finally, why does Stephens feel he can speak on behalf of women? Maybe because he speaks on behalf of trans people?
I’m not sure what was going on with CNN’s Young and his feelings towards transgender people. He needs to come forward and explain what he did. Was it just shoddy reporting or a shady affront?
With Bruni and Stephens, perhaps their tone-deaf writing is being done from an Ivory Tower? How else to explain the fact that they seem to have no knowledge of the reality of LGBTQ+ people — and youths most especially — who are struggling, fighting, and trying as hard as they can to be their most authentic selves. Their true selves.
They don't need appropriate guidelines on being human beings.
John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate.
Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.