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'New York Times' stories on trans youth slammed by writers — including some of its own

A sign for The New York Times hangs above the entrance to its building on May 6, 2021 in New York.
Mark Lennihan
/
AP
A sign for The New York Times hangs above the entrance to its building on May 6, 2021 in New York.

Updated February 15, 2023 at 5:28 PM ET

About 200 New York Times contributors have signed an open letter calling out the legacy newspaper for its coverage of transgender issues.

In the letter addressed to the Times' associate managing editor for standards, the contributors say they have "serious concerns about editorial bias in the newspaper's reporting on transgender, non⁠-⁠binary, and gender nonconforming people."

The list of signatories include a few prominent Times journalists, including opinion contributor Roxane Gay, culture reporter J Wortham and former reporter Dave Itzkoff. It counted a far greater number of writers, such as Ed Yong of The Atlantic and Jia Tolentino of The New Yorker, who contribute only occasionally, and others such as actors Lena Dunham and Cynthia Nixon.

In the letter, they say the Times has treated coverage of gender diversity "with an eerily familiar mix of pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language," and recent reporting has omitted some sources' associations with anti-trans groups.

They say, for example, a January article by correspondent Katie Baker that focused on the challenges schools face when students change their gender identity without their parents' knowledge "misframed" the issue and failed to make clear that related lawsuits brought by parents against school districts are part of a legal strategy tied to groups that have identified trans people as an "existential threat."

The letter also focuses on a New York Times magazine article about children who are questioning their gender identity, in which author Emily Bazelon explored what she called "delicate issues" that had been turned into "political dynamite" by the right. The rate of regret for adults in the past who had gender-affirming care was very low, she wrote. But in today's society, she asked, "How many young people, especially those struggling with serious mental-health issues, might be trying to shed aspects of themselves they dislike?"

In a statement to NPR, Times spokesperson Charlie Stadtlander defended the stories, saying they were reported "deeply and empathetically."

"Our journalism strives to explore, interrogate and reflect the experiences, ideas and debates in society – to help readers understand them. Our reporting did exactly that and we're proud of it," he said.

He also noted that the articles represented a fraction of The Times' news coverage and opinion writing on transgender issues.

The letter also takes issue with a recent decision by the Times not to renew a contract for one of its opinion writers, Jennifer Finney Boylan, who is trans.

Some advocates see challenging the Times' coverage as part of the broader fight for the rights of trans people.

A group of more than 130 LGBTQ advocates and organizations released a coordinated but separate statement on Wednesday accusing the Times of coverage that elevates harmful and false information about trans issues and is "damaging to the paper's credibility."

Representatives from the advocacy organization GLAAD hand-delivered hard copies of that letter to the newspaper. It was also signed by celebrities including comedian Hannah Gadsby and actor Jameela Jamil.

They want The Times to meet with transgender community leaders and hire at least four more reporters and editors who are trans.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Yang
Mary Yang is an intern on the Business Desk where she covers technology, media, labor and the economy. She comes to NPR from Foreign Policy where she covered the beginning of Russia's war in Ukraine and built a beat on Southeast Asia, Asia and the Pacific Islands.