Sunday , 19 January 2020

When reporting trans-children’s stories is not OK

Another happy PFLAG parent - Tim Evanson from Washington, D.C
Another happy PFLAG parent – Tim Evanson from Washington, D.C

There have been syndicated reports of, ‘Britain’s youngest transgender child’, circulating in the media recently. The Mail and the Metro in particular carried reports with pictures. However KaleidoScot isn’t going to supply links to those reports. There are many reasons why not.

First of all, sensationalism is highly inappropriate and irresponsible when a trans-child is involved in a story. Being trans is not a scandal, a tragedy or a new craze amongst kids, it’s a person living their life as the person they feel they are, nothing more.

Secondly, reporting on a transgender child, with ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, the use of that child’s deadname (The name they had that is now inappropriate to their gender) is an irrevocable breach of that child’s right to privacy and confidentiality, both now and in the future because that information is publicly accessible and will remain so indefinitely.

Thirdly, there is a world of difference between reporting on a happy child integrated into their family and school lives as the person they are, and the reporting of traumatic incidents in that child’s life. We don’t need to know what a child thinks of their genitalia, or what they might have considered or done in response to the gender-dysphoria they feel. It’s highly inappropriate to discuss an adult trans-person’s genitals, let alone a trans-child’s.

There are times when reporting on trans-children can be positive and awareness-raising, but great care must be taken to protect the child’s interests above all other concerns. Trans Media Watch is a charity dedicated to improving media coverage of trans and intersex issues. It’s chair, Jenny Kermode said: “According to the Editors’ Code, journalists have a special responsibility when it comes to reporting on children. In particular, they should avoid placing children at risk. As far as we are concerned, they should never identify a trans child without the permission of that child’s parent or guardian, and we would urge parents or guardians approached by the press to talk to us or to Mermaids first and think through the possible consequences for the child. At its most positive, the visibility of trans children can be a great help to others in the same position, but it’s important for those children to have good support networks in place.”

Whilst the child in question undoubtedly has supportive parents, the nature of the reports published does give cause for concern. Many transpeople know their gender does not match the one assigned to them at birth from early ages. But despite this, a young child can only understand so much of what gender is and how others perceive it. A very young child cannot possibly realise the potentially lifelong future impact of their story being told in the media.

Just one possible adverse effect could be that their gender history is discovered by fellow pupils at high school and that the trans-child experiences bullying and abuse in consequence…

Here at KaleidoScot we believe the informed-consent of the child is being vital in these circumstances.

There is also a potentially sinister side to the reports. Some of the pictures in the Metro piece carry the imprint of SWNS, an agency that describes itself as, “…the biggest independent news wire in the UK – providing news, pictures, PR and features to media organisations around the world”.  One of the most prominent things visible on it’s website is the, ‘Sell us YOUR story or picture’, button at the top of the page. This raises the possibility that the trans-child’s story has been sold for financial gain.

To do so is an appalling act. No child should have to face a lifetime of breached-privacy in order for their care-givers to make a quick-buck. There is no way in which the interests and human rights of the child can be upheld in such a circumstance. However it is unknown whether this is or isn’t the case in this instance of a trans-child being identified in the media.

Worse still is the possibility of the Editorial Code not being adhered to and some form of coercion being applied by the reporting journalist in order to gain access to the story. There is no evidence this has occurred here, but anecdotally this has happened many times to adult transgender people in the past.

The reporting of the stories of trans-children in the media is fraught with pitfalls and dangers for those children. Their needs must come first at all times. It’s their lives we are talking about changing here, and everyone involved in reporting their stories be that parents, caregivers, reporters or editors have a duty of care towards that child which should never be disregarded.

Which is why KaleidoScot isn’t reporting on this directly. We think it is wrong to expose a six year old in the media in this manner.
If you are a transgendered child or their primary caregiver, support is out there:

Mermaids offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences.  We give support for individual young people, with or without support from their families, whether they are out or not.

LGBT Youth Scotland says ‘All young people are different. They should have access to help or advice when they need it.’. They offer a range of advice and services for young trans people.

About Johanna-Alice Cooke

Johanna-Alice Cooke
Johanna is a passionate equality and civil-rights activist. An 'out' transwoman, she focuses upon transgender issues from medical provision in the NHS and legislative equality, to fighting society-wide issues such as hate-crime. In her spare time she is working towards qualifying as a clinical-psychologist. A Scot by enthusiatic self-declaration, she's crawled over a lot of the country in a previous life as a geologist and loves knowing why our country looks as beautiful as it does. Currently fostering two cats, Johanna loves felines of all kinds despite being a recovering-carnivore herself.

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