When all else fails, check stylebooks

Posted on 29 Jan 2008 at 12:19pm

The headline on a Dallas Morning News story, “Pre-operative transvestite suspected in Plano bank robbery,” written by Kimberly Durnan, has already offended some members of the LGBT community, and it is sure to rile quite a few more. The headline’s use of the phrase “pre-operative transvestite” was a quote from an FBI official, but The Associated Press Stylebook that is present on every reporter’s and editor’s desk advises avoiding the term “transvestite.” In the writing of the story, Durnan also ignored the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Stylebook’s guideline that transgender people should be referred to in the gender they are presenting. The correct phrase would be a “transgender woman.” At the bottom of the story an Alabama policeman claims that the transgender woman is robbing banks to raise money for gender reassignment surgery (note this is preferabale to sex-change surgery), which apparently explains the editor’s decision to include “pre-operative” in the headline. That should have been explained in an underline or in the lead to keep people from jumping to the conclusion that the editor was picking on transgender people. I doubt that anyone at the DMN intentionally meant to offend anyone, but they may need to bone-up (no pun intended) on these two stylebooks. For information see http://nlgja.org/resources/index.html. (Note: After apparently receiving complaints the headline was changed to, “‘Man dressed in women’s clothes suspected in Plano bank robbery.”

David Webb

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