Why We Need More Trans Journalists

VICE World News' series ‘Transnational’ follows trans journalists around the world as they tell stories in places like Detroit, Mexico City, and Lagos.

It’s been over six years since TIME Magazine notoriously declared that America had reached the “Transgender Tipping Point” with a cover featuring Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox. And yet, data compiled by the Human Rights Campaign shows that 2021 is on track to be the deadliest ever for reported trans murders in the U.S., with 28 murders so far this year. And according to the ACLU, with the recent slew of anti-trans sports and healthcare bills targeting trans youth, 2021 has seen more legislation limiting the rights of trans people passed this year than in the last decade combined. 


These bills largely rely on a tangle of myths and misinformation related to trans people, such as the incorrect argument that puberty blockers are inherently dangerous, or the inaccurate assumption that trans women have an inherent advantage over cis women athletes. Kam Burns, a founding member of the Trans Journalists Association, believes that journalism for and by trans people is key to correcting the misinformation that contributes to such violence and legislative attacks, as well as adding humanistic context to such issues. 

“We know the terminology, but we also know how to humanize trans sources because we know what it’s like to be dehumanized,” said Burns. “So many stories on trans people, whether it’s related to legislation or healthcare or something else entirely, center cis people. Trans people can write stories about and for other trans people, which you don’t see that often.”

VICE World News’ Transnational launches amid this media landscape. First and foremost, the six-part series was born out of a mission to create more opportunities for trans people both in front of and behind the camera and, in doing so, tell trans stories in the most nuanced and accurate way possible. The series also takes viewers around the world, following trans correspondents as they explore cities where stories about trans rights and movements are under-represented in media—Detroit, Mexico City, and Lagos among them. There, correspondents embed within the activist community, learning about the particular issues that trans people face in that place and the consistently innovative ways that the queer and trans community there are fighting back. 

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 69 countries have laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults and at least nine countries have laws criminalizing forms of gender expression that target transgender and gender nonconforming people. While the law is explicit in some of these countries, many are purposefully vague and euphemistic, often reflecting antiquated language from colonial-era “buggery” and “sodomy” laws. Amid this context, queer and trans people across the world are constantly devising ways to survive.  

Transnational moves beyond the typical violence of trans news stories to understand the unseen movement work that often follows, whether it be providing one another with alternative forms of healthcare, establishing safe houses for recently outed trans people, or offering rehabilitation services for trans people who are struggling to survive. It also aims to make clear that, although Western media outlets tend to dominate stories about trans activism, trans people are building movements all over the world.