“The way trans and intersex people are portrayed in the media has a significant impact on their quality of life, especially in relation to their ease of access to services and the degree of harassment they encounter in day to day life.”

To honour February as LGBT History Month, we’re telling the stories of remarkable LGBTIQ+ campaigns from countries around the world. This week we bring you the story of TransMediaWatch (TMW), an organisation in the United Kingdom committed to improving the ways in which trans and intersex issues are addressed by the media.

Chair of TMW, Jennie Kermode, sheds light on the battles trans and intersex individuals are facing everyday and their fight to ensure accurate representation within the media. She also speaks about the role the media should play in improving conditions, as well as what can be done by ordinary individuals to push TMW’s cause further.

The power of the media can often be dangerously understated. At any given moment of any day, we are able to access traditional media outlets through the form of television, radio, advertising, newspapers, magazines, films, theatre, books and more. For the most part, we actively consume information from these mediums multiple times per day, thus constantly allowing ourselves to be influenced by messages that the media choose to show us. With this in mind, one would hope that these messages are as accurate, dignified and respectful as possible in their coverage of certain issues. This is especially true for issues regarding transgender and intersex people.

That’s where TransMediaWatch comes in. As a registered charity based in the United Kingdom, TMW devotes its workforce to providing support for trans and intersex people in their dealings with traditional media outlets. This often involves trans and intersex people working amongst media professionals, as well as connecting them with media organisations wishing to tell their stories. Jennie tells IPF that the whole point of their work is to “educate and break down barriers”.

TMW is entirely run by volunteers; a team that places heterogeneity at its centre. Jennie explained their motive behind this:

“Diversity is important to us. Our team incorporates trans women, trans men, non-binary and intersex people, disabled people, people of colour and people from at least three religious backgrounds.”

Despite this, she told the IPF that no matter how diversified their movement, TMW never assumes to be able to speak for everyone. It’s this level of conscientiousness that sets TMW apart. Additionally, the projects undertaken by the organisation demonstrate the sheer necessity for what they do. Jennie sheds light on the details of what it means to push the TMW mission forward:

“We recently advised a trans man who was having his story used as part of an article in a local newspaper. The journalist involved wanted to use his real name and photographs that showed his face, and he wasn’t comfortable with that.

“With our help, he was able to explain his concerns to the editor. The result was an article that didn’t cross his boundaries and which everybody was happy with. This is the kind of work we do day by day.”

Amongst these dealings with individual cases, TMW also organises workshops across the country to provide training for trans and intersex people who would like to get more involved within the media. The charity has also teamed up with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the LGBT Consortium to improve police understanding of LGBTI community issues. The partnership to combat hate crime aims to improve community confidence in the police and, as a result, decrease incidents of hate crime against LGBTI people.

Despite all the great work being done by TMW and the progress they have made towards proper inclusion and representation of trans and intersex people, the charity is not free of its challenges. Jennie explained that the media’s attitude towards intersex issues and the transgender community still face many problems. She said that while things are gradually beginning to improve in the UK, there is still a “significant problem” relating to the public’s understanding of what “intersex” is.

“We have made progress in educating journalists on this matter and we now see fewer articles in which these journalists assume it’s an identity fad or make jokes about being ‘into sex’. Despite this, there’s a long way to go in terms of generating positive coverage.”

“At present there is very little coverage of any kind. We want to see more stories covering the serious problems intersex people face, as well as stories that help intersex people and their families feel confident about their prospects. We eventually got there with trans issues so I’m confident that we can get there with intersex issues.”

TMW’s story highlights the dire need for the media to take a renewed approach to the content it creates. The charity’s mission statement indicates that if the media were to take more care in their reporting of trans and intersex issues, general perceptions surrounding this community would improve. In turn, it is likely that we would see an increase in the wellbeing of trans and intersex people.

“Our research suggests that the way trans and intersex people are portrayed in the media has a significant impact on their quality of life, especially in relation to their ease of access to services and the degree of harassment they encounter in day to day life.”

Jennie said that TMW hoped, for this reason, that journalists would be more aware of the vulnerability of trans and intersex people and learn to exercise caution when working on stories that “have the potential to exacerbate prejudice”. TMW welcomes any coverage that improves public understanding of trans and intersex people, as well as coverage that increases sympathy for their respective communities. The charity acknowledged that while some publications are trying to change the world, others are focused on neutral journalism, and that TMW respected both and would be happy to help all media outlets on their stories about trans and intersex issues.

However, journalists aren’t the only people who can take steps to improve the livelihood of the LGBTI community. Jennie said that there was lots of things that could be done by ordinary people, including issuing complaints when they see problematic material in the media. She explained that the community desperately needed more people to speak up on behalf of trans and intersex people, as this would bring down the number of people who feel it’s okay to exhibit prejudice or discrimination.

“Challenging problematic comments on newspaper articles is a big help. These actions may seem small but as they become more widespread, they change public perceptions about what’s normal. This not only decreases prejudice but it increases the confidence of trans and intersex people who, simply by seeing themselves acknowledged, feel that they have a place in the world and are less willing to put up with being treated badly.”

With this in mind, it remains clear that even the smallest actions can lead to groundbreaking progress in the fight for “accuracy, dignity and respect” towards the trans and intersex communities across the world – and we are all accountable.