A Curious Erasure

Chelsea Edgar didn’t have an easy assignment. The Seven Days reporter was given the task of writing a comprehensive take on the life and times of the late Peggy Luhrs, pioneering feminist, antiwar activist and, in her later years, a loud and unapologetic TERF. Luhrs lived a long time and accomplished many things. But she was a source of hate for the transgender community.

Doing right by all of that is a tough balance to strike. But there was one big area where Edgar and her editors absolutely fell down on the job.

Not a single transgender person was quoted.

Five friends were quoted, as well as five community activists, some of whom work in the LGBTQIA space. Luhrs herself was quoted at least seven times, and there were multiple examples of her harsh rhetoric. (One of her friends uttered a toned-down version of the TERF point of view.) The conservative Republican Bradford Broyles even got the chance to call trans women “biological males.”

But no room for transgender people. We should have heard from trans women at least; many of them were directly affected by Luhrs’ hateful actions.

Their erasure was probably inadvertent, and that’s sad. It’s a consequence of a lack of representation in the newsroom. If no trans people were involved in assigning, reporting, writing or editing the story, then their absence could simply be overlooked by well-meaning newsfolk who are just not tuned in to concerns they haven’t experienced themselves.

The closest we got to a transgender voice was former Seven Days columnist Shay Totten, who has a transgender son, and Bob Bolyard, a drag performer and friend of Luhrs. I know that’s a stretch, but that’s all there was. Oh, genderqueer city councilor Perri Freeman is mentioned in passing, but she does not speak.

There must be transgender women in the Burlington area who interacted with Luhrs or were targets of her anger. Their inclusion would have brought home the damage that Luhrs caused. Having worked in the Seven Days newsroom, I can attest to their rigorous editorial process. Reporters are constantly asked to get more voices in their stories and do justice to all sides and all parties.

Didn’t happen. Should have.

They say “representation matters.” This is why that’s true. Having people with a variety of lived experience in any enterprise is a good thing. A diverse workplace is much less likely to erase an underrepresented group.

Note. This omission came to my attention through “Sasha,” one of the trans folk I follow on Twitter. Sasha wrote a tweetthread outlining the story’s omissions and their consequences. She deserves credit for being the first to blow this particular horn.

2 thoughts on “A Curious Erasure

  1. gretchenelias

    I don’t think this criticism is entirely fair. Dana Kaplan, who I know personally and who is a trans person, was quoted as not wanting to be quoted. Clearly the author did make an effort to make room for transgender people, and Dana’s response speaks volumes:

    Dana Kaplan, the executive director of Outright Vermont , declined to be interviewed about Luhrs. “Her anti-trans views were hurtful, but not in a vacuum — and reflect the work we have to do towards progress,” Kaplan wrote in an email.

    Thank you for drawing my attention to the 7Days piece. It was an interesting (if saddening) read.

    >

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      So they tried to ask one, who was not identified as trans in the article so how would i know, and they didn’t go beyond that? Surely there are people in the community who were directly affected by Luhrs’ over-the-top hate speech. I still give 7D a fail for this.

      Reply

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