August 25, 2023 - 10:45am

The New York Times is a righteously proud beast. It has Pulitzer-pulling power, a global reach and, by US standards, a long history. Yet for some years, the behemoth brand has been in the crosshairs of GLAAD, the media monitoring organisation which campaigns for fair representation of “LGBTQ people” (though with a focus on the TQ). Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has been the NYT’s reporting on the medicalisation of youngsters who identify as trans that has particularly enraged GLAAD.

Yesterday, the organisation parked a van outside the NYT’s offices, emblazoned in block capitals with the demand: “Stop questioning trans people’s right to exist & access medical care.” On X, formerly known as Twitter, GLAAD explained that the stunt was a response to “yet another biased, anti-trans article” and that the action was designed to hold the paper “accountable”.

The piece that sparked the protest is a sobering read — a lengthy, rigorous and balanced feature examining outcomes for patients and testimonies from staff at a US gender clinic. To anyone outside the trans activist thrall, the article seems almost painful in its restraint. There is no denial of the existence or the feelings of those receiving treatment to ease their gender dysphoria.

Yet, with predictable hyperbole, GLAAD claimed the piece pushed “debunked lies from an anti-trans extremist” and that it “ignored the science of healthcare for transgender people”. This interpretation is so misleading that it’s tempting to suspect the GLAAD activists didn’t bother reading the article before condemning it as heresy. Notably, the woman labelled an “extremist” has a partner who identifies as trans.

GLAAD has taken cheap shots at the NYT before. In February, a coalition of trans lobby groups including GLAAD hired a plane to pull a banner reading, once again in the preferred vernacular of block caps: “10k NYT readers say: better trans stories!”

Complaints levelled at the paper are almost comically ludicrous. These include the fact that a defence of writer J.K. Rowling was published “by a non-LGBTQ essayist” and that the NYT has declined to specifically “commit to hiring transgender reporters and editors”.

The paper treated these infantile demands with deserved scorn, publicly stating: “We understand how GLAAD sees our coverage. But at the same time, we recognize that GLAAD’s advocacy mission and the Times’s journalistic mission are different.” And on paper, the NYT‘s century-long mission is clear: to “give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved”.

Of course, it has frequently erred from this mission in regards to gender dogma. Earlier this year it put out a piece misleadingly titled “Bans on transition care for young people spread across US”, with “transition care for young people” doing a lot of heavy lifting as a euphemism for life-altering surgery on children. A day later, it mischaracterised resistance against gender ideology as a movement spearheaded by the “religious Right” and “social conservatives”. In 2020, it confidently proclaimed that “transphobia is everywhere in Britain”, arguing a year later that there was “an active attempt to dehumanize trans people” in the UK. Despite this chequered history, progress is apparently now being made.

In the UK, trans advocacy groups, including Stonewall and Mermaids, have long maintained that the media is institutionally transphobic. But a small core of journalists and editors refused to be cowed, and they have now been vindicated. Most broadsheets have now covered the stories of youngsters who regret transition and the controversy at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.

In the US, however, where the tradition of freedom of speech is supposedly revered, lobby groups such as GLAAD are still attempting to shame and silence journalists and public figures for doing their jobs. With its impotent and infantile display on the side of a van, the organisation positioned itself on the outside of the building where grown-up conversations happen. Meanwhile, on the inside, the journalists and editors at the NYT have continued to think, disagree and — it would appear — make progress.

Josephine Bartosch is a freelance writer and assistant editor at The Critic.