April 22, 2015
Former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner In this May 6, 2013 file photo. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

Former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner In this May 6, 2013 file photo. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

Even for journalists who feel confident writing about transgender people, the conversation around Bruce Jenner’s gender identity is tricky. Getting it right will send a message that the media has learned from past mistakes.

In an effort to make sure journalists have every opportunity to get it right, on Wednesday the National Lesbian and Gay Journalism Association distributed an open letter to journalists who may be covering Diane Sawyer’s interview with Bruce Jenner, which will air on ABC’s 20/20 on Friday.

The letter notes that it is “widely believed” that Jenner will discuss being transgender and acknowledges that newsrooms might have questions about how to cover this story and transgender people in general. In an email to Poynter, NLGJA executive director Adam Pawlus said this letter was distributed to current and past members, educators, sponsors and LGBT beat reporters and circulated on NLGJA’s social media platforms.

“We hope these tools help answer the questions many reporters and editors will have before them,” Pawlus said, “and to help improve the overall quality and accuracy of coverage in this Bruce Jenner news cycle and the continuing coverage of all transgender individuals.”

The full letter is available on the NLGJA website. It offers an example of fair coverage, links to resources, a glossary of potentially relevant terms, and tips for newsrooms, including:

1. Since Jenner has not publicly announced a gender identity, the best practice is to refer to Bruce Jenner by name rather than using pronouns.

Example: “Olympic Champion Bruce Jenner is set to sit down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer amid reports that Jenner is transgender.”

2. Transgender people should be referred to by the name and gender with which they identify. Some transgender people choose to take hormones or have medical procedures, but that’s not what determines the right name and pronoun to use. It is stating one’s gender identity that is what should guide word use. If and when Jenner expresses a different gender pronoun or name, that’s the one to use.

3. One of the things that makes this story unique is the amount of attention and speculation prior to Jenner speaking publicly about gender. While it may be impossible to write about Jenner without addressing the current rumors, in general best practice is to allow individuals to address their gender or sexuality when they are ready.

Other resources for newsrooms covering transgender people:
Poynter: 9 Ways journalists can do justice to transgender people’s stories
GLAAD: Transgender resources for media professionals 

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