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MTPC and GLAAD rap Herald for trans slurs

by Ethan Jacobs

Bay Windows

Friday July 18, 2008

The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation publicly called on the Boston Herald to apologize for offensive content and language in a July 7 story spotlighting a Boston police detective who goes undercover to uncover prostitution. The article placed a particular emphasis on the detective's experience rooting out transgender prostitutes and used the term "trannies" both in the headline and in the body of the story.

"The language was so jarring. Using the word 'tranny' by anyone outside of the transgender community is derogatory. That was the first jarring aspect of that story," said Gunner Scott, executive director of MTPC.

Beyond the language Scott said MTPC and GLAAD felt that the Herald used references to transgender prostitutes to sensationalize the story and focused on them far more than they did the non-transgender prostitutes. Scott said rather than dehumanizing them the Herald should have looked into what caused these transwomen to do sex work.

"A balanced report would have been, why are people doing sex work? What are the economic reasons behind it? What are the human reasons?" said Scott.

He said MTPC sent a formal letter to the Herald July 15. Prior to sending the letter MTPC and GLAAD tried contacting the paper's editor in chief, Kevin Convey, as well as reporter Jessica Van Sack, but they did not receive a response. The organizations sent out an action alert June 11 urging supporters to contact the paper's editorial staff.

Convey did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

Scott said MTPC and GLAAD are asking the Herald to do more than apologize.

"We'd love a formal apology, of course. We'd also like a meeting with the editor and editorial staff to discuss how they can responsibly report on the transgender community," said Scott. He said they would also ask the Herald to create a written policy for reporters about how to cover the transgender community fairly, basing the policy on similar guidelines used by GLAAD and the Associated Press.

MTPC forwarded a copy of their letter to the Herald to Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. Scott said MTPC spoke with Davis about the Herald article during a July 10 meeting between Davis and LGBT community leaders focusing on LGBT public safety issues. He said MTPC asked the commissioner to tell officers to be careful not to feed into the media's tendency to sensationalize the transgender community when talking to the press.

"We just asked for them to look into it and to be more sensitive when reporting about the transgender community to the media because of the way it might be sensationalized," said Scott.

Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department, confirmed that Davis met with LGBT leaders on July 10 but said she was unaware of the content of their discussion. Bay Windows asked whether Davis had received a copy of MTPC's letter, but Driscoll did not respond before Bay Windows went to press.

Scott said if the Herald does not respond to their requests MTPC may take further action, including contacting Herald advertisers that have trans-inclusive non-discrimination policies and informing them about the paper's depiction of transgender people.

"I hope that the Herald is a professional publication and takes their criticism of what happened seriously," said Scott.

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