Eleven months after the brutal slaying of transgender teen Gwen Araujo in Northern California, it appears the august Los Angeles Times insists that it was correct in its post-mortem insults, referring to Gwen by male pronouns despite her stated preference for female.
The Time’s ”Readers' Representative” Jaime Gold responded in an August 13, 2003 e-mail to Victoria Minetta, Policy Advisor, LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender] Community for the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, to criticism of the Time’s references to Gwen as “a boy who dressed as a girl”.
“I understand that the Araujo story is one that the Times chose to handle in a way other than SCHA-LA [an LBGT rights goup, see LA Indymedia story:
"http://la.indymedia.org/news/2003/07/74109.php" -LGBTs Picket LA Times"] would have done. The decision wasn't made lightly, as I told readers who have written in the past about that story; still, the editors decided to use the male pronoun, based on the reporting the Times did on this specific situation. But it can hardly be said that this paper on a routine basis refers to transgendered people by the gender they do not identify with.
[Gold cited several stories, including one about Calpernia Addams, the subject of the recent Showtime cable TV film “Soldiers Girl”, in which the story used the pronoun of the subject’s preferred gender, but then she proceeded to use the male pronoun in reference to Araujo:]
… “I know that editors have given this issue much thought. They've considered a number of variables in deciding to stay with the male pronoun. For one thing, "Gwen" was still living as "Eddie" part of the time very near to his time of death. He was still dressing as a boy at school, only months before his death. [Gold shows no sensitivity to likely school rules and peer pressure at school requiring her to dress as a boy.]
“Some people knew him as "Eddie," others as "Gwen" or "Lida." This person had not undergone any sort of procedures to change his physical gender. [Gwen was only 17 years old when she was murdered.]
”Editors know it's a sensitive issue,” Gold continued, “and in the discussions I've been a part of they make it clear that they mean no disrespect in their decision, but editors continuing to review this say they stand by the "he" pronoun on this one.
”In general, let me add that the Times doesn't have a standing policy on this at all -- if anything, the policy amounts to judging each story on a case by case basis, including what if any phase of transition the person is in and how they present themselves in public.
“The problem with reporting these stories is made more complex sometimes by the fact that there might exist family, personal or legal documents that indicate male or female, but may be contradictory.
“In short, biology, appearance, expressions of preference, the law and politics all play a role, and it's hard to find where the balance point is. ", Gold concluded.
The UPI Style Book directs reporters to “use the pronoun preferred by the individual who have acquired the physical characteristics [by hormone therapy, body modification or surgery] of the opposite sex and present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth .. or consistent with the way the individual lives publicly .” Gold, however, said the Times declines to use that policy.
In a follow up e-mail to Minetta on August 19 Gold added, “from reading [criticisms from transgenders] it is obvious they do not read the Times.” … I don't think a meeting with individuals who have these misconceptions about the Times would be productive."
Christine Beatty , a transgender activist who corresponded with Gold said,
”This [Gold’s e-mails] is exactly the kind of arrogance that we need a meeting [with the Times] to address.
If we never read the Times, then how would we know what we want to complain about? "
Many in the large Los Angeles Transgender community have protested other Times stories that misuse pronouns, such as in March when a Transgender woman, Laura Banuelos, was killed outside a West Hollywood restaurant.
SCH-LA picketed the Times in July over its editorial policy. [see above cited LA Indymedia story.]