When Katie Sprinkle opened up the Dallas Morning News on Sunday, she was a little startled. There was a photo of herself, on the front page of the paper.
“It’s a little disconcerting when you see it, just because it’s not something that happens every day in your life,” Sprinkle told Fusion. “You’re accustomed to picking up the paper and seeing someone else.”
For Sprinkle, though, being featured in her local newspaper was especially exciting because she’s transgender. She was interviewed as part of a multi-article series at the top of the front page Saturday and Sunday, telling the stories of a half-dozen local transgender people and including a glossary of “transgender terminology” for its less gender-sensitive readers.
Since Caitlyn Jenner broke the internet with her Vanity Fair cover last Monday, newspapers and TV stations around the country have used the opportunity to report on local transgender issues. It’s resulted in an increased and largely favorable media coverage for a group that has long been ignored or portrayed negatively.
“For decades, the media has not done a very good job at reporting about transgender people or transgender issues,” Nick Adams, the Director of Transgender Media at GLAAD, a national LGBT advocacy group, told Fusion. That’s something that’s changing.
“Transgender people telling their own stories to their local communities is a very important way to educate people about who transgender people are and the serious social issues we face,” Adams said.
A story in Sunday’s Meriden Record-Journal—circulation 15,000—was probably the first time the word “transgender” appeared on the Connecticut paper's front page, reporter Farrah Duffany told Fusion.
“When I pitched the story, I wasn’t sure if my editors thought it was something that was newsworthy enough,” Duffany said. “They were all for it, and I was really excited to shine some light on the community.”
Amy Maestas, the editor of the Durango Herald, in Durango, Colo., said a front page story Sunday about the political implications of Jenner-mania in the state wasn’t controversial for editors.
“We’ve written about these issues before,” Maestas told Fusion. “It’s a reality that people are transitioning, they live in our community, and we have a responsibility as journalists to educate our communities about these issues.”
Almost 90 percent of Americans know someone who is openly gay or lesbian, but only 8 percent know someone who is openly transgender, according to a Pew survey and a GLAAD poll. Because of this, many Americans’ perceptions of transgender people are defined by media coverage.
But Adams noted that visibility is not enough. No matter what’s on the front page of the local paper, transgender people, and especially trans people of color, still face especially high levels of violence, discrimination, and poverty.
“With this new visibility, it’s very important that it translates into real policy changes that make the world a safer place for trans people,” Adams said.
“I hope that people see it and it will do some good,” Sprinkle said of the recent coverage. “People will say, ‘Hey, this is in my community too, this isn’t something on some television show, this is real.’”
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.