Herald and Globe Run the Same Stories with Different Gender Pronouns

By | Boston Daily |

In case you needed a quick window into the respective identities of Boston’s dueling daily newspapers, witness the subtle difference in the way they discuss Michelle Kosilek, the prisoner whom a judge recently said is entitled to state-funded sex change operation. Both papers reproduced the same Associated Press story on Kosilek. Here’s how The Herald prints it:

Kosilek tells The Associated Press in a phone interview from prison that gender-identity disorder is a “valid medical condition,” though he knows some don’t view it that way. He said he’s entitled to medical treatment, just like other inmates.

And here’s The Globe:

Kosilek tells The Associated Press in a phone interview from prison that gender-identity disorder is a ‘‘valid medical condition,’’ though she knows some don’t view it that way. She said she’s entitled to medical treatment, just like other inmates.

The difference? Gender pronouns! Generally, trans people ask to be identified using the pronoun of their adopted gender, and most media outlets afford them that convention, as does The Globe here. GLAAD reprinted the guidelines various media organizations give their journalists for references to transgender people. The AP Stylebook, often the basis for other publications’ style guidelines, has this to say:

Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.

The New York Times gives its writers the same advice:

Unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent, use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person. If no preference is known, use the pronouns consistent with the way the subject lives publicly.

There’s no question here that Kosilek lives life publicly as a woman, and seeks surgery to make that permanent. The Herald has referred to Kosilek with male pronouns from the outset, but the difference struck us today because they’re working with the exact same copy as everyone else. CBS’s Boston affiliate also went with the “she” pronoun when they picked up the story. So did every other site that picked up the AP story as of this writing.

When the decision first came down, the Globe editorial defended Judge Mark Wolf for requiring Kosilek’s surgery be paid by the state as a matter of medical necessity. The Herald editorial page didn’t quite explicitly condemn the decision, but said taxpayers would be right to question it. But even outside the opinion pages, little things like how you copy edit a story speak to a broader difference in the way your paper views transgender issues. The Globe editors think Kosilek has the right to be referenced as a woman. The Herald doesn’t.