The Sowetan's ‘Gays can join the ANC Women's League’ is ignorant and disrespectful

Several years ago, when I was at university, there was a campus organisation called Lesbigay. I was puzzled by the name because it represented only a section of a much larger community, but it reflects the jokes I sometimes hear about the letters: What’s wrong with LGB? How many extra letters are they still going to add?

The full abbreviation, at this point, is LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual and beyond) although LGBTI is still most often used.

Unfortunately, many people are only dimly aware that sexuality and gender identity exist beyond their own narrow experience.

On Tuesday, the Sowetan’s main headline read “Gays can join ANC Women’s League”. I noticed it because of the use of the word “gays” as a noun – someone is gay, surely, not “a gay”? I find it akin to talking about “blacks”.

Then Rebecca Davis pointed out on Twitter that, in fact, the story did not refer to gay people at all.

At its elective conference this weekend, the ANC Women’s League decided that it would allow trans women to become members. Excellent news! Unfortunately, the way the Sowetan reported the story was inaccurate, ignorant, and frankly disgraceful.

Transgender people and gay people are not the same. Some trans folks are gay, sure, but if a man is attracted to other men it does not mean that he secretly wants to be a woman. (I cannot believe that in 2015 this still needs clarifying.)

In the opening paragraph, the journalist attempts to explain: “The ANC Women’s League has resolved to grant membership to men who have changed gender to become women.” Again, this is inaccurate and offensive.

Trans women, very simply, are women who have been assigned male at birth and (usually) raised as boys. They don’t “change gender to become women”; they have always been women. This is an important distinction because often trans women are excluded from female and/or feminist communities on the grounds that they are not “real” women.

Paragraph three begins: “The resolution to give transgender men membership…” Nice try, but no. You’re referring to trans women, not trans men.

And then there’s this sentence, midway through the article, which made me apoplectic with rage: “Pammy Majodina, the national executive committee member who chaired the social development commission, yesterday [Monday] confirmed the league’s resolution on gay men.”

Gay men!

It is deeply concerning that a newspaper with a wide reach can spread such misinformation and perpetuate ignorance and stereotypes.

Gay men and women have gained a great deal of acceptance over the last few decades (so have bisexual people, although they often still have to deal with a particular set of prejudices). Transgender and intersex people, however, are getting the short end of the stick; so do people who identify as queer, genderqueer, genderfluid, nonbinary and so on – for the sake of simplicity I’ve made use of the gender binary (male and female) in this piece, but it’s far more complex than that.

While famous trans women like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Caitlyn Jenner are helping to create awareness of the difficulties transgender people face, they are outliers; trans people are still regularly erased from public perception.

I occasionally see people asking why Gay Pride still exists while there is no such thing as straight pride. I suspect these are the same people who wonder why there’s no Men’s Month, or why we say #BlackLivesMatter instead of #AllLivesMatter. The LGBTI community still often faces prejudice and discrimination, and the trans community in particular is marginalised. It affects their daily lives and the way they exist in the world. It is something we need to change.

There are many resources available to help the media report accurately on transgender people. Google is your friend, but here are a few good ones: locally we have the Triangle Project and Gender DynamiX, while Everyday Feminism has many articles on what it means to be trans. GLAAD also provides an excellent media guide.

The Sowetan has shown the trans community incredible disrespect. I hope that they will apologise – and that they will learn.

More from Louise:

Why the #MCInHerShoes Campaign is a cheap gimmick

Why silence is a killer

Why are we so hard on millenials?

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