New York Times Contributors Politely Request Paper Unf**k Its Coverage Of Trans People

After Donald Trump's election in 2016, The New York Times responded by hiring and promoting the voices of such great thinkers as Bari Weiss. Now that elected Republicans across the nation are targeting trans Americans, even children, the Times isn't elevating actual trans journalists but hiring conservatives such as David French in the name of "ideological diversity." Indeed, we need another right-of-center white man to contrast against David Brooks and Bret Stephens. We don't want the op-ed page getting stale.

GLAAD, as well as many individual trans writers, criticized the French hire, which resulted in many of your favorite Never Trumpers defending French against the intolerant Left. J.K. Rowling is a master of this, but she's not the only powerful person to cast themselves as a victim against some powerful woke army of marginalized people who are losing more of their rights each day.

In 2016, when the Obama administration acted to protect vulnerable trans children in public schools, French wrote in the National Review:

On May 9, Vanita Gupta — the head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice — uttered these words:

"Here are the facts. Transgender men are men — they live, work, and study as men. Transgender women are women — they live, work, and study as women."

In other words, according to the DOJ, it is a simple “fact” that a man can have a menstrual cycle, that a woman can have a penis, and that men can get pregnant.

The "ideological diversity" argument is that French's views are hardly unique, and the Times should reflect a range of opinions. That position is superficially sophisticated but it's actually quite regressive. If a group's very right to exist is a subject for debate, their oppressors have already won a key battle, if not the entire war. And shouldn't this debate actually include members of the group fighting for their existence?

GLAAD points out that that the Times ended openly trans writer Jenny Boylan’s column last year and has a known lack of trans representation on its staff. That's a strange move for a publication that is, as Tom Scocca noted in Popula, seemingly "obsessed" with trans kids. This focus on a supposed "trans question" is historically chilling.

Scocca writes, "[In] the past eight months the Times has now published more than 15,000 words’ worth of front-page stories asking whether care and support for young trans people might be going too far or too fast." He also calls out some overtly transphobic material from the Times's Michael Powell, Pamela Paul, and regrettably Michelle Goldberg.

You might argue that running trans-bashing articles and op-eds, much like those tedious "Trump voter" profiles, allows the Times to pat itself on the back for its commitment to "ideological diversity." But this implies that the Times itself has an overtly liberal, pro-minority history, which it doesn't.

More than 200 New York Times contributors, including Roxane Gay, J Wortham, and Dave Itzkoff, signed an open letter to Philip B. Corbett, associate managing editor for standards at the the Times. The letter expresses concerns about the apparent "editorial bias [in] reporting on transgender, non⁠-⁠binary, and gender nonconforming people." It delivers ample receipts, and like Scocca's article, you should go read the whole thing. However, what stands out to me is how the letter reminds Corbett of the paper's shameful "track record of demonizing queers through the ostensible reporting of science."

In 1963, the New York Times published a front⁠-⁠page story with the title “Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern,” which stated that homosexuals saw their own sexuality as “an inborn, incurable disease”—one that scientists, the Times announced, now thought could be “cured.” The word “gay” started making its way into the paper. Then, in 1975, the Times published an article by Clifford Jahr about a queer cruise (the kind on a boat) featuring a “sadomasochistic fashion show.” On the urging of his shocked mother, Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger sent down the order: Stop covering these people. The Times style guide was updated to include the following dictum, which stood until 1987: “Do not use gay as a synonym for homosexual unless it appears in the formal, capitalized name of an organization or in quoted matter.”

New York Times managing editor and executive editor A. M. Rosenthal neglected to put AIDS on the front page until 1983, by which time the virus had already killed 500 New Yorkers. He withheld planned promotions from colleagues he learned on the grapevine were gay. Many of his employees feared being outed. William F. Buckley published his op-ed arguing that people with HIV/AIDS should all be forcibly tattooed in the Times.

The Buckley column was published in 1986 alongside one from Martha's Vineyard pariah Alan Dershowitz, who argued that "the flow of solid data should not be polluted by personal moralism. … We have a right to know the hard facts about AIDS, unvarnished by moralistic prejudgments.” Almost 40 years later, the Times still promotes alarmist rhetoric about a marginalized group under the guise of "objective science."

Over the past few years, the Times has run sympathetic profiles of Nazis and flattering portraits of aspiring despots. It's normalized bigoted MAGA supporters while centering the concerns of transphobes. The letter highlights this obvious and insulting bias in a devastating finale line:

There is no rapt reporting on the thousands of parents who simply love and support their children, or on the hardworking professionals at the New York Times enduring a workplace made hostile by bias—a period of forbearance that ends today.

The contributors who signed that letter aren't naive. They know from personal experience (as do I) the backlash waiting when you demand the treatment you deserve.

[nyletter / NPR]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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