FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, February 15th, 2023
New York, NY — Today a group of New York Times contributors and member-organizers at the Freelance Solidarity Project, the digital media division of the National Writers Union, independently published an open letter to the Times Standards editor Philip B. Corbett decrying the failings of the paper’s recent coverage of trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people.
180 and counting New York Times contributors have signed on as of Wednesday morning, along with a group of 65 (and counting) media workers and organizations signing on in solidarity. Signees include Chelsea Manning, Cynthia Nixon, Angelica Ross, Lucy Sante, Pennsylvania Senator Nikil Saval, Lena Dunham, Alexander Chee, Ashley C. Ford, Roxane Gay, Kathryn Joyce, and David Velasco.
Per the Times’ own reporting, states have introduced no fewer than 12 laws seeking to ban gender-affirming care for people under the age of 18 within the last year. Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed a bill outlawing care for trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming minors in late January 2023, while South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed a similar bill into law just last week. Lawmakers in two states, South Carolina and Oklahoma, have even sought to ban such care for adults as old as 25. The criminalization and demonization of trans youth has real consequences: This letter arrives in the wake of the tragic murder of 16-year-old trans girl Brianna Ghey, which shows all the hallmarks of a transphobic attack. “There are material consequences when we cede rhetorical ground,” Muna Mire, a co-writer of the letter, said. “There are lives on the line.”
American policymakers have increasingly drawn on the Times’ coverage in order to justify enacting these draconian policies toward trans children and adults. “In two federal court cases last year, we saw legal briefs cite the Times’ reporting in order to defend these vile, reactionary, scientifically backwards bans on gender-affirming medical care,” Harron Walker, freelance journalist and letter co-author, said. “Not just its opinion pieces, though that happened, as well, but its purportedly objective editorial, too. If the Times’ reporting on trans issues can so easily be weaponized against trans people, diminishing our bodily autonomy off the page, the unethical bias could not be more clear.” This reporting also clearly plays into a broader and even more dangerous campaign by groups whose ultimate goal, according to the Times’ reporting, is to eliminate transition care for everyone.
The letter also draws on the New York Times’ record of covering HIV/AIDS and the gay community, which the Times itself acknowledges as a blemish on its history. “The Times described queer subjects with clinical distaste for decades, intimidating its own closeted staffers,” said Chris Randle, a co-author of the letter and a member of the steering committee at the Freelance Solidarity Project. “That long backlash against the supposed excesses of gay liberation made the paper fatally sluggish to report on the AIDS epidemic.” As the letter points out, New York Times managing editor and executive editor A. M. Rosenthal neglected to put AIDS on the front page until 1983, by which time the virus had already killed 500 New Yorkers.
As Cecilia Gentili, longtime trans activist and co-author of the letter, said: “As anti-trans sentiments, and particularly ‘concerns’ about trans youth, become a rallying point for growing fascist movements worldwide, institutions like the New York Times must deeply consider the role their coverage is playing in advancing this bigotry. Pretending there are ‘two sides’ to whether or not trans kids have the right to exist as themselves is providing faux-progressive cover to far-right ideology that is currently steamrolling through state legislatures. I join hundreds of fellow opinion contributors and other public figures in demanding the Times reverse this trend and cover trans issues with fairness.”
Relevant to this effort is the fact that the paper recently decided not to renew the contract of Jennifer Finney Boylan—for years, the only regular trans contributor to the Times Opinion section. While the letter primarily serves as an indictment of the Times’ coverage to date, other non-profit organizations committed to protecting trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming youth have gestured toward possible solutions. This letter marks the beginning of a conversation and several parallel efforts, including an open letter to the New York Times published by GLAAD and signed by 100+ LGBTQ and allied leaders and organizations on Wednesday, whose demands to the Times include holding a meeting with trans community members and leaders, immediately putting an end to printing biased anti-trans stories, and genuinely investing in hiring trans writers and editors full time on staff.
This letter also builds on FSP-NWU’s recent work organizing Times contributors in solidarity with the Times Guild’s one-day walkout in December 2022, as well as Times staffers organizing in opposition to an op-ed openly calling for violence against Black protestors in June 2020. “As workers, we are coming together to make our concerns heard,” said Eric Thurm, co-author, campaigns coordinator at the National Writers Union, and a steering committee member of the Freelance Solidarity Project. “The Times’ editorial bias not only endangers trans people everywhere, it also creates an adverse work environment for trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming contributors to the Times, and a chilling climate for our allies. Trans rights are workers’ rights and workers’ rights are trans rights.”
“Times contributors outside the queer community have seen our trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming family, friends, and colleagues misrepresented and marginalized within the paper for too long,” Freelance Solidarity Project member-organizer and Times contributor Sean T. Collins said. “For our coworkers and loved ones, for persecuted people across the country and around the world, we have both the right and the duty to speak out about this dangerous trend.”
Co-writers and organizers of the NYT Open Letter
Harron Walker (she/her), Times freelancer
Sean T. Collins (he/him), Freelance Solidarity Project member-organizer and Times freelancer
Cecilia Gentili (she/her), longtime trans activist, and Times freelancer
Jo Livingstone (they/them), Times freelancer
Muna Mire (they/them), Times freelancer
Eric Thurm (he/him or they/them), co-author, campaigns coordinator at the National Writers Union, and a steering committee member of the Freelance Solidarity Project, Times freelancer
Chris Randle, (he/him), member of the steering committee at the Freelance Solidarity Project, Times freelancer
Olivia Aylmer (she/her), member of the steering committee at the Freelance Solidarity Project (not Times freelancer at time of letter publication)