So, over the weekend, the Toronto Star’s Ethics columnist published a response to a email from a “senior woman” claiming she was harassed by a “a “man” claiming to be transgender, who had not yet begun physical treatments” (their quotes not mine) while using the locker room at her local YMCA. This columnist then provided what was, by most accounts, a very trans-friendly and open-minded response, going so far as to point out that “transgender women, regardless of their status regarding surgical intervention, have the absolute right to use the women’s change room.”
I read this piece over the weekend in my usual perusal of the headlines for possible commentary, was shocked to hear about the initial claim, but generally pleased with how the writer handled with question.
However, the talented Cristan Williams over at TransAdvocate decided to investigate further and actually called all of the Toronto area YMCAs to see if such an incident had actually occurred. In news that comes a no shock to pretty much anyone…none of them had any idea what she was talking about! Upon contacting the columnist, he responded that it was not his responsibility to verify the accounts he’s given and essentially shirked all responsibility for fact-checking his piece.
Here’s the issue with that notion. While I understand that what he’s writing is functionally an advice column, the piece pretty specifically brings up a VERY sensitive issue, which is cis people’s fear of being harassed by trans or “trans-posing” people in locker rooms and bathrooms. It’s not as though the letter was asking for advice in how to deal with a boss who’s stealing, or a spouse who’s unfaithful…this is a story that the potential to do real harm to the trans community. One of the largest arguments made against allowing trans people to use public restrooms and locker rooms of their identified genders is precisely the fear that this hoax of a story hits on and propagates. It’s ammo for the right-wingers to curtail our basic human rights, and he had an absolute responsibility to do at least a basic fact check of the circumstances before letting such a tale go to press in a major newspaper. Failing the author’s responsibility to fact check, the editor also had a responsibility to ensure all i’s had been dotted before allowing such a potentially inflammatory yarn make it to print.
I also happened to notice that while the story’s headline at least manages to properly refer to the alleged harasser (and apparently non-existent) harasser proper as a “transgender woman”, the URL very definitely says “transgender man”. It’s a microaggression, but still definitely another black mark against the Star in this situation.
I’d like to be able to give the Toronto Star and this columnist the benefit of the doubt on this, but given the way all stories involving trans people are sensationalized for readership throughout the media, I’m finding that difficult. Toronto Star, you owe us a correction, and an apology.