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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

Screenshot from Hair Love

Why ‘Hair Love’ is all the representation we need to get ahead

We have a firm belief that representation matters deeply,” said Karen Rupert Toliver, drowned out by applause in her acceptance of best animated short at the Academy Awards Sunday.

Toliver was accepting the award for her part in producing the short film, “Hair Love,” a delightfully sweet story about a Black father struggling, and then succeeding in doing his daughter’s hair.

Former NFL wide receiver Matthew Cherry wrote and directed the film, and joined Toliver on stage.

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A post shared by Hair Love (@hairlovemovie) on

“Especially in cartoons, because in cartoons that’s when we first see our movies and it’s how we shape our lives and think about how we see the world,” Toliver continued.

“‘Hair love was done because we wanted to see more representation in animation. We wanted to normalize Black hair,” added Cherry. Cherry also dedicated the award to the late, great Kobe Bryant.

While “Hair Love” is a beautiful portrait of a father-daughter relationship and a message about working together to overcome an obstacle, it is also a call for action of a serious issue that discriminates against people of color.

In his acceptance speech, Cherry mentioned the CROWN Act, a law and acronym that stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” This law “prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture.”

It was first introduced by Governor Newsom of California on July 3, 2019, and went into effect on January 1, 2020. New York was the second state to introduce the CROWN Act, and New Jersey followed suit.

Twenty-two additional states are considering the CROWN Act and are looking to introduce their own anti-hair discrimination bills.

DeAndre Arnold, the Texas 18-year-old who was forced to cut his hair or else not be able to graduate from his high school, was Cherry and Toliver’s guest at the Academy Awards. Arnold’s situation is heartbreaking, but even more disconcerting is that his story is nowhere near an anomaly

In the Spring of 2018, the United States Supreme Court refused an NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund request to review a case in which a black woman named Chastity Jones had her job offer rescinded in 2010 at an Alabama insurance company after she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.

Also in 2018, a 6-year-old boy was barred from school because of his dreadlocks.

These obstacles and interferences are issues white people do not have to worry about, and it is not a mystery as to why. The rules prohibiting certain hairstyles are not to increase productivity or promote inclusiveness that will eventually optimize the school or work’s capabilities.

They are discriminatory, they are racist, and solely against people of color.

Cherry and Toliver’s delicate and touching Hair Love short film is one more step into spreading awareness of this serious issue into the public’s consciousness. The short film was beautiful, moving, and fully deserving of the academy award.

Image result for hair love short film gif

It is not enough to fight back against discriminatory rules and practices. People must consider the question as to why these obstacles are in effect in the first place and then remedy the situation from there.

Only through deep understanding, honest reflection, and diligent action will injustice be fully eradicated. Hair Love, in essence, is about loving your hair and yourself.

The story also contains a message about love and labor between a family, as the father works hard to do his daughter’s hair. Wherein both father and daughter rush to see their wife and mother in the hospital and make her feel better.

This message can be carried over to the action that needs to take place, in line with the CROWN Act. Lead with love, and be diligent in finding a way for everyone to be happy and find peace.