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When will Trans communities claim authentic representation in media?

Over the last 20 years, the LGBTQ movement for social justice has secured dozens of high-profile legal victories and moved the hearts and minds of so many around the world. But there’s still so much work to do.

But, the picture is different for the trans community. Especially in media and advertising.

“Unfortunately, those images and videos have been created by cisgender people who either had never met a trans person or were relying on past media to produce their own,” explained GLAAD’s Director of Transgender Representation Alex Schmider.

The problem is not the lack of representation of the transgender community in the media, but how they are represented. More often than not, one or two-dimensional caricatures of trans people contributes to stereotypes.

What’s more challenging? People remain unaware of these stereotypes, tropes, and clichés they are unintentionally recycling and replicating.

In an effort to remedy some of these issues, GLAAD has partnered with Getty Images to provide guidelines for creators to follow when creating content about the transgender community. With one mission — to teach creatives how to ensure a safe, respectful, and authentic environment.

There are years of work ahead

“Stereotypes are basically created and recycled by media,” explained Schmider.

“It will take many years of authentic trans representation to undo the harm caused by stereotypical and reductive stories.”

Alex Schmider, Associate Director of Transgernder Representation at GLAAD

Fortunately, there has been an improvement in the way that transgender people have been portrayed in television and original programming.

Starting with the premiere of Netflix’s original show, Orange Is the New Black, the ongoing efforts of the show’s star Laverne Cox, and other advocates for appropriate representation in media, people have a better understanding of what it means to be transgender.

However, with the exception of a few indie films, the film industry lags behind. GLAAD has found no transgender characters in major studio films at least for the last three years.

“Empowering trans people to tell our own stories will be the next big step forward. Our conversations at GLAAD are shifting from hiring trans actors (which is finally happening now) to hiring trans people behind the scenes to help create and shape the stories being told.”

Alex Schmider, Associate Director of Transgernder Representation at GLAAD

An industry leader takes to the challenge for more authentic Trans representation

“Unfortunately, trans people largely don’t exist in the world of advertising and commercial imagery. This partnership with GLAAD is a commitment to thoughtfully fill that void.”

Guy Merrill, Global Head of Art, iStock

In order to successfully educate audiences and empower trans people to tell their stories, there needs to be a safe space and environment for them to create.

“We aim to challenge the pervasive stereotypes of the trans community and tell all the stories that haven’t been told before. Additionally, we want to guide the agencies and brands we work with to use imagery and video which is as inclusive of this community as possible.”

Guy Merrill, Global Head of Art, iStock

“Authentic representation involves depicting a person, community or group in a way that respectfully seeks to capture them as they truly are—not as we perceive them to be or as a simplified or reduced version, but as they see themselves,” said Merrill.

He advises photographers and videographers to respect the boundaries not only trans individuals but also as intersectional members of every race, ethnicity, age, class, religion, ability, body size, culture, and sexual orientation.

“They are children, parents, employees, and business owners, and so much more, and we should aim to depict that breadth and depth.”

Guy Merrill, Global Head of Art, iStock

Creating a safe space, together…

“While transgender people are a part of the LGBTQ community, they are a unique, distinct subset of the community whose experiences vary greatly from cisgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Having said that, what we mean when we talk about creating a safe, welcoming set is as much about attitude and behavior as it is about the process.”

Guy Merrill, Global Head of Art, iStock

Using the appropriate terminology when working within the transgender community is key. Develop an understanding of the terms “transgender man,” “transgender woman,” “non-binary,” “cisgender” and “gender non-conforming.” Also, understand the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation.

It is essential that the creator knows what are the appropriate pronouns and that they are using them at every turn. “There’s significant diversity within the transgender community,” explained Merrill. “Appreciating that fact is critical toward improving the visual representation of transgender people.”

Creating a comfortable and creative space goes beyond using the right terminology. Approach casting members with authenticity in mind. Remember, it’s important to make privacy and safety accommodations.

Take the time to encourage models to take the lead in terms of their appearance including hair, make-up, and clothing.

“If I had to sum it up, I’d say that taking care of the individual–paying attention to their needs and reflecting their preferences back to them–is essential toward creating a safe set for any trans model.”

Guy Merrill, Global Head of Art, iStock