Nearly 1,000 New York Times contributors, in addition to tens of thousands of subscribers and readers of the Times, signed an open letter on Wednesday to the paper’s standards editor condemning the publication’s coverage of transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people.
A second letter organized by the nonprofit Glaad (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) on Wednesday spoke against what it called “irresponsible, biased coverage of transgender people” in the Times.
The Times has asserted that its reporting is nuanced and fair, saying: “GLAAD’s advocacy mission and The Times’s journalistic mission are different.”
“As a news organization, we pursue independent reporting on transgender issues that include profiling groundbreakers in the movement, challenges and prejudice faced by the community, and how society is grappling with debates about care,” said Charlie Stadtlander, the Times’ director of external communications in a statement that was provided to several media organizations.
In recent months, the Times has published several stories on healthcare for trans youth, as well as opinion pieces on the subject.
The contributors’ letter said that “plenty of reporters at the Times cover trans issues fairly” but criticized the organization and specific reporters for publishing “over 15,000 words of front-page Times coverage debating the propriety of medical care for trans children” over the past eight months. That letter, signed by 30,000 supporters as of late Friday, includes Chelsea Manning, Cynthia Nixon and Roxane Gay.
The Times’ increased coverage comes at a time when anti-trans attacks have become a major part of the GOP’s electoral strategy. Republican state legislators across the country are introducing an unprecedented number of bills designed to regulate treatment of trans youth in public schools and restrict healthcare that trans people can receive from doctors.
The contributors’ letter notes that the Times’ reporting has been cited in support of anti-trans legislation, including in an amicus brief by Republican attorneys general in support of an anti-trans law in Alabama.
The contributors’ letter also criticized the Times’ framing of gender diversity as a new phenomenon and suggested that the paper’s current leadership was repeating the mistakes it made during its early coverage of gay rights and the Aids epidemic.
The second letter, from Glaad, the Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups, was signed by more than 100 organizations and public figures including actor Gabrielle Union and Jeopardy! champion Amy Schneider. It included specific demands: that the Times “stop printing biased anti-trans stories”, hold community meetings with trans community leaders every two months and hire at least four trans people to full-time positions within the paper.
In an internal memo, Joe Kahn, executive editor of the Times, and opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury defended the paper’s coverage of trans people as “important, deeply reported and sensitively written”. They said individual reporters have “endured months of attacks, harassment and threats”.
The memo also included a full list of the Times’ coverage of transgender issues and said it was against the spirit of the organization’s ethics policy for reporters to be engaged in the campaign. “We also have a clear policy prohibiting Times journalists from attacking one another’s journalism publicly or signaling their support for such attacks.”
A day after the open letters went public, the Times faced additional criticism for publishing an op-ed written in defense of author JK Rowling, who has come under fire for her controversial statements about the transgender community.
A billboard truck also drove around the Times’ Manhattan office on Thursday, with several messages, including “Dear New York Times: Stop questioning trans people’s right to exist & access medical care,” reported NBC News.
Lois Beckett contributed reporting