Activism in reporting


In 2016, I penned an op-ed describing the fear many in the transgender community felt following the election of President Donald Trump. We rushed to process paperwork for gender change requests and name changes, stocked up on medications and braced for the worst. A little over six years on, we continue to survive, but each day becomes scarier than the last.

Anti-trans legislation continues to hound trans people across the country. While I can say I’m feeling relatively safe living and working in California, daily news from around the country reminds me just how precarious my place in society is. South Dakota, for example, banned gender-affirming care for youth Feb. 13, including hormonal treatments and some surgeries, according to The Hill.

Similar laws have been passed in other states primarily targeting transgender children. Meanwhile, Missouri is looking to ban trans people from amending their gender on birth certificates with S.B. 14, while Tennessee’s H.B. 1215 aims to forbid any health care provider working with the state’s Medicaid program from offering transgender affirming care.

Tennessee also voted Feb. 23 to set the stage to ban drag shows, while Montana’s House of Representatives passed a similar drag show ban the same day.

As Katelyn Burns warns Feb. 17 in Xtra*: “The conservative and gender critical ‘solution’ to trans rights is very much a deliberate, eliminationist project.”

It is stressful enough to go day in, day out hearing about this hate and the daily reminder there are people out there readily wishing for my silence at whatever cost. Just as Asian Americans are facing a rising tide of hate, LGBTQ communities are also facing attack. The vilification of drag events already resulted in the Colorado Springs mass shooting last November while several pride flags have been torched outside businesses over the past few months. I am bombarded with these stories almost daily to the point I regularly wonder, “How long will California hold out? How long before public opinion erodes so far I’ll be dragged out of my home one day and shot?”

Certainly, working among the Japanese American community and learning about the extent of cruelty this country is historically capable of, I’m not so sure there’s any line this country won’t cross. And if left up to chance, I very well might end up another statistic for the history books.

Amid this, GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and a cohort of more than 180 current and former contributors to the New York Times published a pair of letters Feb. 15 criticizing the New York Times’ editorial bias against transgender people. The letter from contributors state that the Times published more than 15,000 words of front-page coverage “debating the propriety of medical care for trans children published in the last eight months alone.”

The New York Times, however, dismissed the letters, citing that GLAAD was an “advocacy” organization rather than a journalistic one, nevermind the second letter signed by the paper’s contributors and journalists, which was summarily ignored. (To add insult to injury, the Times published the next day on Feb. 16, an opinion piece defending “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, who has been consistently criticized for transphobic views).

In one flippant response, the Times ruled taking a stand against hate disqualifies one from “objectivity.” Yet, I hope to remind Japanese Americans what it means to be brushed off as an “advocate.”

When our very existence is politicized and questioned by dominant social forces, the right to exist becomes activism. In working for the last 17 years within the ethnic press, I know that the objective reporting I work on is “biased” to reflect the reality and perspective of the community I serve. It is fundamental to the concept of ethnic studies, which challenged the established paradigm of American history and society by recognizing the truths of minority communities and thereby legitimizing it.

As a Japanese American trans woman, I have very distinct political views, and I must often put aside my personal feelings for work. But that should not mean I am disallowed from participating in a debate over my personhood. This advocacy I must exhibit here as a working journalist comes not from trying to “win an argument,” but a plea to affirm my right to exist.

The letter to the Times asks for reflection on the harm the paper has done amid this rising tenor of hate against the transgender community. These are criticisms and a call for better coverage that is, ironically, less biased by recognizing trans voices instead of consistently spotlighting, affirming and legitimizing dishonest critics.

Above all, if my speaking out for my own right to live is just an opinion that should be left at the door, then I want you to take it outside with me. Trans rights are human rights.

Tomo Hirai is a Nichi Bei News staff writer. She is a queer Shin-Nisei lesbian trans woman. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei News.

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