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The misgendering of Jeanine Tuivaiki

Last Friday, a woman was found dead in a church hall near Apia, Samoa. Police are investigating the cause of her death, with initial reports suggesting it was suicide. Jeanine Tuivaiki, 20, was a computer science student and a regular at the Catholic Church of Taufusi. On Sunday, the Sunday Observer newspaper published the headline […]

Calvin Prasad

June 21, 2016 4:03 pm

Last Friday, a woman was found dead in a church hall near Apia, Samoa. Police are investigating the cause of her death, with initial reports suggesting it was suicide.

Jeanine Tuivaki. (Facebook).
Jeanine Tuivaiki. (Facebook).

Jeanine Tuivaiki, 20, was a computer science student and a regular at the Catholic Church of Taufusi.

On Sunday, the Sunday Observer newspaper published the headline “Suicide in Church Hall” accompanied by a graphic image showing Jeanine’s dead body hanging from the rafter of the church.

The article attracted widespread outrage, with many calling the story “disgusting” and “shameful”.

Throughout the story, Jeanine was referred to with male pronouns like “he,” even though the photograph clearly showed her wearing a dress.

Jeanine was known to be assigned male at birth, but her gender identity was that of a woman.

The Prime Minister of Samoa, Susuga Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, today issued a sharp rebuke on the use of the image on the newspaper’s front page but remained silent on the pronouns used to refer to Jeanine.

TUILAEPA: “Like many others I was appalled at the front page of the Sunday Observer, showing the lifeless body of a young person with such callousness and disrespect. As a parent, it was devastating to see someone’s child portrayed in such a heartless manner.”

The Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper accepted there was “an inexcusable lapse of judgment” when the publication decided to splash a photo of a suspected suicide over its front page, but made no apology of referring to Jeanine as a man.

The front page of the Sunday Samoa newspaper. (ONE News);
The front page of the Sunday Samoa newspaper. (ONE News).

The Creative Director of Haus of Khameleon (an advocacy group on transgender issues), Sulique Waqa said reporters should use a person’s preferred pronoun and use gender-neutral pronouns when unsure.

WAQA: “The ways trans people are portrayed in the media fosters negative views of trans people. It makes us feel unsafe because it normalises ridicule and violence towards trans people, portrays our identities as invalid. Let us not kill Jeanine twice by erasing her identity and the life she lived.”

The University of the South Pacific (USP) Head of Journalism, Dr Shailendra Singh said the coverage of Jeanine’s death highlighted the need for training journalists in this area of reportage.

SINGH: “Generally, there is confusion among journalists about how to cover and address transgender people. The situation is challenging in the Pacific, where the LGBTQ and transgender community are becoming more visible and vocal about their rights.”

Dr Singh stated that journalists should first understand what “transgender” means, know the difference between “gender identity” and “sexual orientation”, and understand what “transition” means.

The USP academic suggested using language that is “respectful and that protects the privacy and dignity of people”.

A Suva-based lawyer, who preferred not to be named, said: “like many things that the law has never thought of, the law doesn’t regulate this or prescribe any particular way in which the media should report it.”

“The media should be respectful where it can be and where to do so is not compromising its other responsibilities. Go with the person’s gender of choice because that seems more polite – it isn’t anyone else’s business what gender a transgender person is, and it disrespects no other person (even if it upsets the other person for religious or other pedantic reasons).”

The 2015 Vodafone Hibiscus Adi Senikau, Agu Tuinasau, a member of the Pacific Rainbow Advocacy Network in Lautoka, said the transgender community identified themselves with the gender they regarded themselves and not by their biological profile.

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