Straits Times, 17 May 2013, “Loanshark runner spared caning because of sex change” [http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/loanshark-runner-spared-caning-because-sex-change-20130517]
Channel News Asia, 17 May 2013, “Transsexual avoids caning for being loanshark runner” [http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/transsexual-avoids-caning-for-being-loan/678438.html?cid=FBSG]
Dear Sir/ Mdm,
We are a group of individuals who are transgender persons, allies of transgender persons, and cisgender persons who work with transgender persons. We refer to your above-mentioned news article as published on your paper, website and facebook. We were shocked and horrified at the disrespectful nature of the article towards the convicted, Benitha. We believe that this was not intentional on your part, hence we would like to share our opinions on your piece.
In particular, we wish to address 2 points. Firstly, it is very disrespectful and harmful towards Benitha to have revealed her previous name in the news article. I do believe that Benitha did not give her explicit and voluntary consent to expose her previous name in the article. As such, you have revealed a personal detail of hers against her will to the whole of Singapore and beyond. This is really insensitive as this may cause unnecessary distress towards Benitha, her friends and families. It is important for a transgender person to be able to live as she identifies after she has completed her sex reassignment surgery. This is a right respected under Singapore’s law vis-à-vis the right to change one’s identification card and the right to get married. To expose her previous name is unnecessary.
Secondly, her gender history and gender identity has no direct bearing on the crime she committed. As someone who is legally recognized as a female, she has been duly punished by the law. It is unnecessary to highlight the blatant fact that had she not undergone sex reassignment surgery, she would have been caned. To some people, this can be misconstrued as that she underwent surgery simply to evade caning, and this is inaccurate.
In this society where transphobia happens on a daily basis, journalists should take extra care when writing news reports. Transgender persons are subjected to many forms of violence, stigma and discrimination since young as they are perceived as different. In schools, they are subjected to name-calling and bullying; in some cases, families disown and kick out their children simply because they cannot accept their gender identity. Consequently, many transgender people are deprived of a loving support system that others enjoy. This article not only contributes to that stigma and violence through sensationalism and inaccuracy, it has also spurred and emboldened people to make derogatory remarks and insults at transgender people. Just two weeks ago, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minster of Law, K Shanmugam has come out to condemn bullying in cyberspace (http://tinyurl.com/n6eh6ux). Yet, comments on your facebook and your website has seen some of the most hurtful comments towards transgender people. The saddest part of it all this is that it all happened on May 17– International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, a day recognized by many to say that it is important to end all forms of discrimination and violence against LGBT people.
It is important that news is accurate, and is respectful of a person and their families and friends. If you would not write about the gender identity of a cisgendered person, then you should accord the same practice to transgender people. The media has such a wide influence and as the age-old saying goes, with great power comes great responsibilities.
Vanessa Ho (Project X)
Dr Martha Lee (Eros Coaching)
p.s. Many people have written about media portrayal of transgender persons and have compiled guidelines. Some resources for journalists can be found here: