Shoddy work or just sensational?

Letters to the Boston editor, June 5, 2009

Regarding Adam Reilly’s recent article about the transgender MBTA operator who crashed a Green Line train: unless you are transgender yourself — and given the content and tone of your article I would venture a guess that you are not — you have no right or privilege to discuss issues regarding disclosure of trans status. Much less do you have the right to discuss how disclosure, or lack thereof, may relate to issues of shame or truthful disclosure.

There are several truths about this person. One is that he is a knucklehead, to put it mildly. Another is that he has caused quite a bit of pain and suffering, not to mention property damage. And yet another is that he is a male — that is it. Whatever history may exist behind that is irrelevant. When I read print media, yes, I do see someone’s gender and age listed. However, I do not see their race, religion, or lending-library fine record printed, as well. Your actions are transphobic, sensationalistic, and, quite honestly, somewhat hateful.

Given that you are writing for what is allegedly one of the more progressive “mainstream” publications in metro Boston, I suggest you print a retraction right about now.

Madeline Deutsch, Md
San Francisco, California

ADAM REILLY RESPONDS Madeline Deutsch may disagree with my conclusion that more sober media references to Aiden Quinn’s trans status were appropriate, but labeling that argument “transphobic” and “hateful” seems like a reach. And I absolutely reject her contention that — in discussions of how the press treats specific populations — only members of those populations are allowed to weigh in. Sorry, no retraction.

Unless the transperson has willingly disclosed his or her trans status to the public, and/or it is relevant to the story, it should not be reported. Even though Aiden Quinn disclosed this information over the Internet, according to press coverage, that does not mean he intended it to be circulated by other media. Now, Quinn’s transition is known to a huge number of people. He most likely will be a target of hate speech and, very possibly, more physically expressed hate crimes.

Handling pronouns and descriptors for transgender people in an accurate and sensitive way is actually very simple, and does not, by itself, require withholding relevant information from the public. If a person identifies as male, then refer to him as male; if the identification is female, then refer to her as female.

When a person’s past is not relevant to the present, it should not be made public, especially when doing so would reveal sensitive information. If the possibility exists that it could be relevant, evidence supporting the relevance should be gathered and verified before making a decision to disclose the information. Responsible reporting does not have anything to do with advocacy. It has to do with behaving in an accountable way not only to your public, but also to your subjects.

That the only way Quinn’s transgender status could be relevant to the story about his accident is if the MBTA knew that he was a bad driver and hired him anyway because he was a member of a minority group. But conjecture doesn’t justify disclosure. Unless or until investigations turn up some kind of hard evidence of anything like this, the transgender issue isn’t in play, and it shouldn’t have been thrown into the ring by the media.

Peter Ringo

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