In May, The New York Times started a series of editorials, with photos, videos, a timeline and, at its heart, a community page, on the challenges still facing transgender people in the United States. Though the editorial board has long called for equal rights for gays, lesbians and transgender people, the project delves into transgender issues and offers a range of specific policy recommendations.
The editorials argue that while more Americans wrestling with gender identity are transitioning openly today, doing so remains unnecessarily hard. The suicide rate, especially among young people, remains alarmingly high. Transgender people are banned from serving in the military, and those in uniform are subject to discharge. Anachronistic barriers to full inclusion need to be lifted.
The series also shows that things are far from hopeless. Transgender people are gaining more visibility on television and in popular culture. The federal government has made strides in recent years to protect civilian employees, thanks to trailblazers who have come out and their co-workers who have protected them.
At the heart of the series online is a community feature — easily accessible on mobile and desktop — that allows transgender readers to tell their own stories in their own words. We wanted to give them control because the narrative of this community has long been stigmatized and misunderstood. We also wanted to give readers an unvarnished look into the lives of ordinary transgender people, to dispel stereotypes and educate the public about the challenges this segment of the population faces.
The user-generated feature — an expanding, continuing project — includes short essays, photos and videos. They are extraordinarily compelling and varied, from people of all ages, backgrounds and professions. Some submissions are uplifting tales of people who have overcome adversity and are doing extraordinary things. Others are heartbreaking, giving voice to the loneliness, hopelessness and stigma that remain widespread.
We wanted to encourage video contributions to fully capture the personalities behind the stories. But we were also aware that some people would not feel comfortable creating or sharing videos of themselves. So developing an inviting way to submit video was critical to our success. The tool we developed gave people the option to send us a pre-existing YouTube link, upload a video file from their desktop or to shoot and upload a file from their smartphone. Though technically complicated for us to build, for the user, it was an easy process that didn’t discriminate between phone or desktop.
One of the singular challenges of this project was to reassure potential contributors that this was a safe space to share stories about a deeply personal issue. We started the page by soliciting videos from a few active and outspoken members of the community. We hoped that their candor and the diversity of experiences would make others feel safe in this space. And it seems they do. More than 200 people have submitted their stories in only a few weeks since publication.
We encouraged more people to share stories with social outreach through tweets and Facebook posts, including a video collage of some of the contributions. For those who wanted to learn more, we provided resources for informational and advocacy organizations.
We have also let readers opt in to receive emails that alert them when a new part of the series is published. Each of the email alerts has seen higher than 100 percent engagement, suggesting that virtually all recipients opened the email and many likely forwarded it to friends.
We hope that the voices from the community, along with the editorials, will accelerate the movement for full rights for transgender people.