Newspaper declines to apologise for terminology in intersex story

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The People newspaper has said there is no difference between the term “hermaphrodite” and “intersex” – and therefore has not apologised for its substitution of the h-word in a story last month.

This follows the People’s reporting of an FOI request into the Metropolitan Police’s diversity policy which revealed some 8 members of that police force identify as “intersex”. In reporting the story, however, the People replaced the term “intersex” with “hermaphrodite” – a description that many in the intersex community consider to be both inaccurate and offensive.

Complaints to the Press Complaints Commission followed – including one from the National Trans Police Association – both in respect of alleged inaccurate reporting in the original story and also around the use of language detailed here. The People has now agreed to publish a correction in respect of one aspect of this story, however, not all complaints have yet been resolved.

In their initial response to the PCC, the People conceded that they had wrongly reported that gender could never be changed on a birth certificate, but rejected claims that their story contained further material inaccuracies. In respect of their use of “hermaphrodite”, they claimed that the word was “interchangeable” with “intersex”.

This was swiftly rejected by experts in the field. According to Drs Milton Diamond and Connie Brinton-Diamond of the University of Hawaii’s Center for Sex and Society: “Use of certain terms represents a sensitivity to the needs and desires of the group spoken about.

“At one time it was true that the term hermaphrodite was used to mean the same as intersex. However, the designation intersex was not generally known or understood, while the term hermaphrodite was often used as a derogatory term and one commonly associated with circus side shows.

“That term has since been replaced by the term intersex because this designation carries less stigma than that associated with the older term. It has generally been embraced by the group itself as well as academics and clinicians. It also is a term that has instructive value indicating a natural, inborn, condition rather than a mythical one.”

And Y Gavriel Ansara of the University of Surrey added: “The term ‘hermaphrodites’ is considered offensive, objectifying, and dehumanising by many but not all people whom this term purports to describe. Despite highly controversial efforts within medicine and psychology to impose a ‘consensus’ that natural human diversity can be classified as ‘Disorders of Sex Development (DSDs)’, there is not actual consensus.

“Fair and accurate reporting standards in both journalism and psychology stress the importance of referring to people using the gender and sex-related terms they use about themselves. While people should be free to identify as they wish, imposing pathologising or sensationalist terminology like ‘hermaphrodite’ or ‘DSD’ on people compounds the societal stigma and discrimination they often face.

“Responsible journalism means keeping up with current standards. Journalistic ethics require that authors and editors take care not to reinforce societal inequities through discriminatory reporting.”

Supporting their own claims the People cited pages from two dictionaries, a press release from 2003, and a document published by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in 2005 on the Gender Recognition Act in which the term hermaphrodism was used as an equivalent for intersex – and trans police without a gender recognition certificate would be barred from carrying out a range of searches.

However, according to a spokesman for ACPO, both these claims are now dated: the guidance document is undergoing review in conjunction with the National Trans Police Association, and that the term “hermaphrodite” would not be used now in policing guidance.

They also added that more recent guidance issued by police chiefs confirms the legal position that once transitioned, irrespective of whether they possess a gender recognition certificate or not, trans police officers will be fully able to carry out searches compatible with their identified gender.

A spokeswoman for the Met also confirmed that the police did not use the term “hermaphrodite” in respect of intersex individuals.

The People declined to provide further comment.

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