TL;DR - Two freelance trans journalists pulling out of The Guardian’s Pride special coverage marks an important moment for the UK media, and LGBTQIA+ journalists working in it. They've called for a boycott of the paper until it improves it's editorial approach to reporting on trans lives.
This week, Freddy McConnell and Vic Parsons said they were declining all future work with The Guardian until they see substantial change. As two of the UK's most prominent trans journalists, it's a stark moment.
In an open letter first published by Vice World News they said it was because on the eve of Pride Month The Guardian published "another profoundly misleading article about trans women" which "contravened The Guardian’s editorial code on fairness, verification, accuracy and discrimination."
The duo pulled their work from a Pride edition of the paper’s magazine. They said this move "was not made lightly" and was a long time coming after the paper's long history of publishing similar pieces. - Open letter
They've called on other writers, especially cis queer writers, to end their "working relationship with The Guardian until it stops attacking trans women and trans equality more broadly."
In a statement responding to the Vice World News exclusive, The Guardian said:
"The Guardian continues to highlight the rights and lives of LGBTQ people in depth, and with empathy... We have worked hard to make the Guardian an inclusive environment for all staff over many years, and to support our LGBTQ employees."
But in the LGBTQIA+ community, there has been broad recognition of the power of this move by Parsons and McConnell - both publicly on social media, and privately to the journalists.
What is the response?
"Broadly speaking there have been three kinds of response," Vic Parsons told QueerAF.
"The first is from people who were already boycotting, had stopped writing or were unsubscribed from the paper. They've been glad to see this happen publicly. Then there is a lot of private messaging from trans women and trans femmes mostly saying thank you - that they are glad that we're saying enough is enough."
The third kind of response Parsons has received raises a more complex question. Some trans writers have reached out to say they may continue writing for the organisation, but only because they hold out hope of working in and with the media, to change it.
"There are lots of trans journalists and producers, podcasters, and documentary filmmakers who are working outside the mainstream media,” Parsons tells QueerAF.
“The work they're producing is vital, urgent and exciting. They can tell stories in a way that isn't done at places that are controlled by cis editors. It’s why we've already seen a shift where trans people are building their own projects and being disruptive like this.
"That's because they've weighed up whether to change the system or build your own thing. I find that exciting, and hopeful."
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Rising levels of transphobia in the UK press
This all sits in a broader context of rising transphobia, led by much of the mainstream press.
They have only been increasing the amount of divisive coverage on trans lives in the last few years.
This matters because the media has a big impact on the norms people have, and the way society acts. - Harvard
It's been spilling out onto the streets in the form of a 210% rise in hate crimes in the last six years, and the UK falling in global rank on LGBTQIA+ rights for the third year in a row. For LGBTQIA+ activists, the shift in violence is no coincidence.
At The Guardian, for years trans writers, staffers and allies have been trying to change the culture from the inside. But this work has been exhausting - Parsons and McDonnel say "they’ve all left, either wholly or partly due to said transphobia."
"Ultimately I hope this action sparks a moment, particularly with trans writers who are marginalised and precarious, where we can bring more people together and galvanise us as a coalition," Parsons tells QueerAF.
"For me it's about asking: How can we create opportunities elsewhere? How can we be less reliant on transphobic mainstream media?"
QueerAF was set up because we were tired of the mainstream media failing and misrepresenting our community. But even with the big change needed, we haven't given up hope. With a new generation of LGBTQIA+ creatives working in the industry, and being supported to do so, change is possible.
The media has a serious issue. Despite strong editorial energy behind supporting trans people in newsrooms - gatekeepers are getting in the way.
Fighting this kind of barrier is exhausting. It's why LGBTQIA+ journalists are leaving newsrooms. That's bad news for coverage of our lives.
We need to support queer creatives to not only get media roles - but stay in them, to change the industry.
Our free weekly newsletter that commissions underrepresented writers is filling the room with the story that needs to be told. But by becoming a member of QueerAF, you fund a future where LGBTQIA+ journalists are hired, supported and understood.
We're working with creatives to not only improve their craft but to build ties with the industry - so we can change it. It's vital, but time-consuming work - and we need your help to make it possible.
Let's rewrite the narrative and change the media for good.