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N.Y. Times contributors and LGBTQ advocates send open letters criticizing paper's trans coverage

Hundreds of current and former contributors to the paper say the Times’ coverage of transgender people has violated its editorial guidelines.
The New York Times headquarters.
The New York Times headquarters. Leonardo Munoz / VIEW press/Corbis via Getty Images

Hundreds of New York Times contributors and advocacy groups sent two coordinated open letters Wednesday accusing the paper of record of publishing biased articles about trans people.

One of the letters, signed by more than 370 current and former Times contributors, several of them trans and nonbinary, said that “the Times has in recent years treated gender diversity with an eerily familiar mix of pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language, while publishing reporting on trans children that omits relevant information about its sources.”

The letter, addressed to Philip B. Corbett, the paper’s associate managing editor for standards, included the signatures of well-known public figures and writers like Cynthia Nixon, Chelsea Manning, Roxane Gay, Jia Tolentino and Sarah Schulman.

In a second letter, more than 100 LGBTQ and civil rights groups, including GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign and PFLAG, said that they support the letter from contributors and that the Times is platforming “fringe theories” and “dangerous inaccuracies.” Among the prominent advocates and public figures signing it were “Jeopardy!” champion Amy Schneider, TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney, comedian Hannah Gadsby, “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness and actors Gabrielle Union-Wade and Tommy Dorfman. They called on the Times to take a number of actions to change its coverage of transgender people. 

A billboard truck also drove around the Times’ office in Manhattan with the coalition’s messages, including: “Dear New York Times: Stop questioning trans people’s right to exist & access medical care.”

Charlie Stadtlander, the Times’ director of external communications, confirmed the paper received both of the letters.

“We understand how GLAAD and the co-signers of the letter see our coverage,” Stadtlander said in an email. “But at the same time, we recognize that GLAAD’s advocacy mission and The Times’s journalistic mission are different. As a news organization, we pursue independent reporting on transgender issues that include profiling groundbreakers in the movement, challenges and prejudice faced by the community, and how society is grappling with debates about care.”

Stadtlander added that the news stories the letters criticized “reported deeply and empathetically on issues of care and well-being for trans teens and adults.” 

“Our journalism strives to explore, interrogate and reflect the experiences, ideas and debates in society — to help readers understand them,” Stadtlander said. “Our reporting did exactly that and we’re proud of it.”

The two letters came to fruition after a group of nine writers joined this year to figure out how to push back against what they felt was the Times’ increasingly biased coverage of trans people, said Jo Livingstone, a contributor to the Times and its magazine, who was one of the co-authors of the contributor letter.

“As last year drew to a close and this year began, I think that the citation of Times reporting in state legislatures was starting to cohere into something that was beginning to look really frightening to me,” Livingstone said. “The New York Times seemed to be acting as this catalyst for speeding up outrage cycles and shuffling those hot-button issues into policy proposals.” 

According to the contributor letter, Times articles were cited in state legislatures during debates of bills that would ban gender-affirming care for youths and used in support of legal battles over such bills. For example, an amicus brief filed by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in support of an Alabama law that would charge doctors who provide gender-affirming care to minors with a felony cited three Times articles about transgender youths and LGBTQ people.

The letter had 180 signatures from current and former contributors when it was first published Wednesday morning; Livingstone said it had more than 370 from Times contributors and 7,400 from supporters by Wednesday afternoon.

In the letter, contributors said the Times’ coverage of transgender people, particularly trans youths, has gone against the paper’s editorial guidelines.

The letter gave a few specific examples of coverage that the signatories allege shows favoritism to anti-trans viewpoints. It said a June article by Emily Bazelon, “The Battle Over Gender Therapy,” failed to provide important context about the sources it quoted; “uncritically used the term ‘patient zero’” to refer to a child who was one of the first in the Netherlands to receive gender⁠-⁠affirming care, which “vilifies transness as a disease to be feared”; and misrepresented the work of multiple experts it quoted. 

The contributor letter compares the Times’ present-day coverage of transgender people to its past coverage of gay people and the AIDS crisis. It points to a 1963 Times article titled “Growth of Overt Homosexuality in the City Provokes Wide Concern,” which quotes multiple experts who describe gay people as having an illness or a disease that can be cured.

Livingstone, who uses they/them pronouns, said they and their co-authors chose to protest the Times’ coverage in an open letter because a letter is how the paper traditionally solicits and accepts complaints. 

“It’s so easy for an editor to write off somebody they construe as partial, saying, ‘This person is essentially akin to a disgruntled source or an activist,’ and that’s not the kind of person The New York Times listens to,” Livingstone said. “This is how they asked for their complaints to be presented, and so we’ve followed their directions.”

Livingstone said the authors of the contributor letter coordinated with GLAAD to release the letters at the same time, but they stressed the two are intentionally different. Notably, the letter from GLAAD and other advocacy groups includes a set of demands. 

It asked the paper to “stop printing biased anti-trans stories,” to hold a meeting with trans leaders and trans youths within the next two months and to hire at least four trans people — two for the opinion section and two for the news section — within three months.

“For those of us who truly treasured the Times coverage for so many years, it is appalling to see how the news and opinion pages are now full of misguided, inaccurate, and disingenuous ‘both sides’ fearmongering and bad faith ‘just asking questions’ coverage,” says the letter organized by GLAAD.

Editor’s note: The writer of this article is a member of the Trans Journalists Association, one of the supporting signatories on the open letter penned by former and current Times contributors.