Posted by Hilary Abrahamson
U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning is raising important questions about how the media refers to transgender people.
Manning, formerly known as Bradley, has been convicted of leaking classified documents while serving in the United States Army. During her trial, the defense described Manning’s struggle with gender dysphoria—the feeling that she is a woman living inside of a man’s body.
After the trial, Manning went public with her decision to live her life as a woman named Chelsea and released a statement asking the media to refer to her by her new name and with the use of female pronouns. Subsequently, major media outlets published stories acknowledging the decision but completely ignoring her request.
“Bradley Manning wants to live as a woman, be known as Chelsea,” was a CNN headline, and Yahoo! News wrote “Bradley Manning says he wants to live as a woman.”
Manning supporters protesting in Ireland (via www.breakingnews.ie)
The major problem with these headlines is that they not only make light of Chelsea Manning’s decision, but they invalidate the identity of thousands of readers who are transgender, intersex, or questioning their own gender identity. By refusing to accept Manning’s decision, they are sending the message to readers that being transgender is unacceptable.
One of the ethical responsibilities of the media is to maximize information while minimizing harm. Informing the public of Manning’s identity change without offending anyone could have been accomplished with a simple change of wording.
“Manning plans to live as a woman named Chelsea” would have been a neutral, reader-friendly way to inform the public of Manning’s identity change.
After Chelsea Manning’s request in August, The Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, and ABC began referring to her as a woman, while some media sources, including CBS and Washington Times, are still calling her Bradley.
Paying attention to ethical mistakes in journalism provides a valuable lesson for anyone trying to understand and improve the media. As journalism students, why do you think the media continued to refer to Manning as a male, and would you have presented the story differently?