The old saying “any press is good press” isn’t always true – but media coverage of transgender issues proves that this time, it is.
When it comes to covering the transgender community, a hefty portion of what I’ve been observing recently – both in news and entertainment programming – has seemingly been positive.
Of course, we’re nowhere close to the finish line on this one. But I’m reassured, for example, by Diane Sawyer’s interview with Bruce Jenner from last week, where Jenner’s story – and the more general ramifications of being transgender in America – were critically examined and sympathetically portrayed.
ABC isn’t the only one bringing these powerful personal stories to light. Over the past few weeks, NBC has produced a smart series about transgender children and their families, which have aired on MSNBC and the Nightly News.
“Transparent,” the fictional portrayal of what it’s like to come out as trans later in life appeared on Amazon this fall to mostly positive reviews.
And transgender icon and actress Laverne Cox not only appeared at the see-and-be-seen White House Correspondent’s Dinner – as the Blade’s guest, by the way – but was one of the stars of the night, even appearing in a much-shared picture with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
This could be the transgender moment – and despite this week’s same-sex marriage rallies during oral arguments outside the Supreme Court, this is an historic time that the L’s, G’s, and B’s should embrace and accept as belonging to all parts of the acronym.
Transgender issues are somewhat new to the national stage and public consciousness – but gay marriage is not. Just over a decade ago, same-sex marriage was first legalized in Massachusetts. Since then, it’s slowly but surely dominated conversations on equality, clogging our Twitter feeds and being identified as the one of the very top advocacy priorities for organizations like the Human Rights Campaign.
Now, I don’t mean to be a killjoy. But even though we won’t hear an official decision on same-sex marriage from the Supremes until June, experts have made it pretty clear how this story is likely to end.
It’s also become clear that the same-sex marriage fight is no longer one we are expected to fight alone. At the rallies Tuesday were all sorts of advocacy organizations, from NARAL, to URGE, to the American Civil Liberties Union. Same-sex marriage is a gay issue – but it’s no longer exclusively a gay issue.
That’s why there’s nothing wrong with adjusting our focus to a campaign that has yet to garner a broad base of support – namely, issues like transgender suicide and homelessness rates. Or even conversations about what it means to be transgender, how this portion of our American population is not a media fabrication, and how they deserve the same basic rights even those of us in the gay community have come to take for granted.
So Sawyer deserves kudos for her interview with Jenner, as well as her ability to break down differences between gender identity and sexual orientation. (Naturally, well-informed D.C. progressives might have rolled their eyes and interpreted Sawyer’s slow-talking as condescending. But just imagine how eye-opening her report was for those in rural America who have hardly heard of the word “transgender,” let alone met a trans person for themselves.)
I hope everyone who attended the marriage rallies this week enjoyed them. But don’t sit down on your couch in front of the fireplace with a glass of Pinot Noir just yet. Don’t assume that because you wore a T-shirt with an equal sign on it, your work – or anyone else’s – is finished.
This is the transgender moment, and marriage equality supporters have a new responsibility to keep the momentum going.
It’s the next battle to invigorate our community.
Justin Peligri is a student at George Washington University.