Open Letter from Kelley Winters:
"Unprofessional Journalism at KUSA-TV Denver"
Craig A. Dubow, Chairman, President and CEO
Gannett Co., Inc.
7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22107
Dear Mr. Dubow:
Fifty years ago, nine courageous African-American youth were denied access to public education in Little Rock Arkansas by hateful mobs and the Arkansas National Guard. The Little Rock Nine faced a gauntlet of intolerant parents in their community, inflamed by local media. Such attitudes seem unimaginable in twenty-first century America. Yet in Colorado, they persist.
On February 7, Denver NBC affiliate KUSA-TV criticized and ridiculed the Douglas County School District for enrolling a third grade girl who was born different than most children but dared to seek an education in the same schools. Stories of gender variant children, whose innate gender identities are incongruent with their assigned birth sex, have been reported in recent national media with accuracy and compassion. In 2007, ABC “20/20,” CBS “Oprah Winfrey,” and MSNBC introduced families of children and adults who transitioned their social gender roles to fit their inner identities. These were real human beings who were forced to overcome tremendous obstacles to live remarkably ordinary lives. However, KUSA-TV reporter Nelson Garcia disregarded these accounts when he reduced this child’s struggle to false stereotype, rumor and hysteria.
Of the harsh words faced by gender variant people, none is more hurtful than maligning language, which disregards their experienced gender identities and denies the affirmed gender roles of those who have transitioned full time. Since 2000, the Associated Press Stylebook has advised journalists to use respectful pronouns consistent with the way gender variant individuals live publicly. Mr. Garcia violated these guidelines for a cruel, sensational headline, “Boy Wants to Return to School as a Girl.” In truth, a young girl simply wishes to be treated with the same dignity as all other girls.
The KUSA-TV report vilified gender variance and gender role nonconformity as mental disorder. A local social worker reinforced these worn stereotypes and implied without evidence that this family lacked competent medical and mental health advice. No medical or mental health practitioners with specialized expertise in this field were allowed to respond. Some factual information from Mrs. Kim Pearson, of TransYouth Family Advocates, was later added to text on the KUSA-TV web site. However, her remarks were completely omitted from the broadcast. Mental disorder is defined by behaviors and emotions that represent distress, impairment and dysfunction. Gender variance, in contrast, is characterized by behaviors and emotions considered ordinary and even exemplary for other people. In 2006, the American Psychological Association stated, “Many transgender people do not experience their transgender feelings and traits to be distressing or disabling, which implies that being transgender does not constitute a mental disorder per se.”
The KUSA-TV report disparaged an entire class of human beings, yet not one gender variant representative was interviewed. Only one view from the Highlands Ranch Community was presented: one parent with an agenda of intolerance, fear and an ignorant reference to “someone wearing transgender clothing.” (There is no such thing; transitioned youth wear clothing that is ordinary and appropriate to their affirmed gender.) Accepting, welcoming parents from Douglas County were excluded from the report. Mr. Garcia also neglected to mention other public school districts across Colorado, where students have transitioned with support of parents, classmates and teachers, and without the intolerance and media circus that has been incited in Douglas County.
The existence of gender variant people is not news. Gender transcendence among Native American nations was honored for millennia before European prejudice came to this continent. Evidence suggests that innate gender identity in all people forms before birth and, like sexual orientation, cannot be changed by coercion or so called “reparative therapies.” Two distinguished mathematicians reported to the World Professional Association of Transgender Heath Symposium last year that as many as 1/2500 Americans will undergo a sex reassignment procedure in their lifetimes, and far more will transition their social gender roles.
The willingness of public school officials to educate all children and treat all students equally with dignity and respect is not news. Nothing less should be expected from any public school. Tragically, the Douglas County School District decision to provide an education to this special student and treat her with basic human dignity was sensationalized as scandal by KUSA-TV, just as the admission of students of color in Little Rock, Arkansas was scandalized fifty years ago.
The real news in Colorado is the extraordinary hostile environment that gender variant youth face in many communities. The KUSA-TV report neglected to mention the brutal murder of a gender variant, Navajo two-spirit teen, F. C. Martinez, near Cortez, Colorado in 2001. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network reported that more than nearly one fifth of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students surveyed were physically assaulted due to their sexual orientation and over a tenth were assaulted because of their gender expression each year. Further inflaming hostility, KUSA-TV has shown a callous disregard for the safety of these children in Colorado.
Fifty years from now, people of Douglas County and all of Colorado will shake their heads in disbelief of the cruelty that was inflicted upon courageous gender variant children who sought an education here in 2008. In the meantime, your corporation owes this Highlands Ranch family an apology and owes the public unbiased and factual journalism in the future.