Rapid Response: Language Doesn’t Need to be a “Drag”

One of the goals of NLGJA is to encourage fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues.  When concerns are raised–both big and small–the Rapid Response Task Force (RRTF) will often respond with suggestions that would improve coverage.  The goal is not to be overly critical or unnecessarily pedantic.  Instead, it’s journalists talking to journalists about how to improve our craft.

A good example of our work was a recent exchange with the Chicago Tribune over its story on a bar that was imposing a new identification policy targeting “cross-dressing prostitutes.”  It’s a story fraught with complicated language issues and the RRTF offered some advice on how to handle the lede.

This sentence, “Put another way, they now need a photo ID that shows them in drag,” implies that this only affects people dressed in drag, whereas a wide spectrum of people are affected by this policy.

Perhaps another way to have stated it (and still stay somewhat lighthearted) would have been something like this: “An Elk Grove Village gay bar popular with cross-dressers now requires patrons to show a valid photo ID that matches their gender presentation. That means you better show up to the bar looking the same way you did at the DMV.”

Members of the RRTF discussed the story and agreed that it did a lot of things right, but that some language in the story could be clearer. The RRTF also acknowledged that stories involving transgender people and gender-issues generally were difficult even for the best journalists. The note was sent to the Tribune and the RRTF received a quick note back saying the paper appreciated the help.

For people with questions about terminology, check out our NLGJA Stylebook Supplement on LGBT Terminology and our Journalists’ Toolbox.

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