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ivoh | January 17, 2018

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Five media & art projects that take a nuanced approach to covering transgender stories


Brian, a Queer Rwandan in Canada is featured in Mikael Owunna’s Limit(less) project. Photo by and courtesy of Owunna




The recent “bathroom laws” debate has drawn renewed attention to transgender rights in mainstream media.

The debate provides media practitioners with an opportunity to take a more nuanced and holistic approach to covering the LGBTQ community.

Progress has been made in the era of popular shows, including such as “Transparent” and “Orange is the New Black.” But transgender stories in the news often lack diversity and depth.

Earlier this spring, Nieman Reports published “Covering the transgender community.” The article, written by Sara Morrison, highlights how newsrooms can move beyond “coming out” stories to more meaningful transgender narratives.

Morrison notes that there have been small triumphs, including the fact that VIDA: Women in Literary Arts now includes statistics on LBTQI (lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex) writers, as well as writers with disabilities, in its annual VIDA Count. “Despite this progress, the general population still knows relatively little about the transgender community,” writes Morrison. “In a recent survey by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBT civil rights organization in the U.S., only 22 percent of respondents said they knew a transgender person.”

Morrison goes on to explain that the “lack of knowledge, combined with the rapid rise in visibility for transgender people, has created unique challenges for newsrooms.” In a similar way to media makers who cover trauma and racial issues, those who report on the transgender community need to find ways to move beyond a single narrative.

Here are few art and media projects that take a nuanced approach to sharing trans stories:

Limit(less)”: Mikael Owunna’s multimedia documentary photography project sheds light on the self-image and style choices of LGBTQ African immigrants. Owunna, a queer Nigerian-Swedish American photographer, writer and LGBTQ activist, aims to deconstruct the restraints of the colonial binary by examining how LGBTQ Africans in diaspora share their African identities through fashion. “As LGBTQ Africans, we are constantly told that being LGBTQ is somehow ‘un-African,’ and this rhetoric is a regular part of homophobic and transphobic discourse in African communities,” Owunna said.


Wiilo Geedi, a Queer Somali Canadian American.

Wiilo Geedi, a Queer Somali Canadian American. Read Wiilo’s story here.


Lee Mokobe: A powerful poem about what it feels like to be transgender: South African slam poet and the youngest TED2015 Fellow Lee Mokobe penned a poem that’s a reflective exploration of body image, identity and change. The poem, which was recently featured on Brain Pickings, examines the difficulty of living as a transgender youth. Mainstream media, Mokobe said, hasn’t helped: “News headlines have turned my identity into a spectacle, Bruce Jenner on everyone’s lips while the brutality of living in this body becomes an asterisk at the bottom of equality pages … ”



Camouflaged Identity”: Reporters and filmmakers Gillian Laub and Shaul Schwarz recently profiled several transgender members of the U.S. military for Time Magazine. The short video explored the lives of transgender public servants who fight discrimination while working to protect the freedom of American rights. “An estimated 15,000 transgender troops currently serve in the U.S. military,” according to the video. “Each has risked dismissal from military service for revealing his or her identity. That could all be about to change.”


Transgender activists debunk the “bathroom predator” myth “The Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams interviews both a group of trans activists and a transphobic lawmaker to learn more about anti-trans laws.



#MoreThanMom – Celebrating The Diversity of Motherhood”: Intersectional feminist media platform, Wear Your Voice, recently launched the #MoreThanMom social media campaign and photography project to emphasize that all moms deserve to be recognized on Mother’s Day. The photos, featuring LGBTQ mothers and their families embracing, show “there’s no one right way to parent, or to define family.”


These are just a handful of projects that show how people in media and the arts are contributing to a deeper understanding of the transgender community.