US: Congresswoman attacks Science Magazine over transmisogynistic cover photo

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Californian Representative Jackie Speier has called on the CEO of Science Magazine to “take action to eradicate harassment and inequality in the scientific community”, as a result of its controversial use of a photograph of two transgender sex-workers on the cover of a recent issue.

Earlier this month, the magazine received widespread criticism for its use of a cover photo showing transgender sex-workers in Indonesia, ostensibly to accompany an article on HIV/AIDS research and high risk groups, which was dubbed transmisogynistic and “dehumanizing”.

Rep. Speier has since published a letter to Dr Alan Leshner, CEO and Executive Publisher of Science, describing the barriers faced by female scientists and criticising the publication for contributing to the problem, and for comments by editor Jim Austin which have been linked to the ‘trans panic’ defense.

It reads in part: “The July 11 issue of Science Magazine featured a lurid cover photograph of transgender women in tight dresses and high heels with their heads cropped out of the frame. The use of headless, sexualized women of color on the cover of the most prestigious science publication in the United States sends the message that women and minorities still do not fully belong in the ‘boy’s club’ of science.

“The choice of cover was made even worse by Science editor Jim Austin’s comments suggesting that if men were drawn in by the exposed legs and tight dresses, it would be ‘interesting’ to see how they felt once they discovered the women were transgender.

“The prevalence of the ‘trans panic’ defense, in which perpetrators of violent crimes justify their actions by claiming shock at the identity of a trans person, make this an abysmal motivation for Science’s choice of cover are, particularly since transgender people are disproportionately subject to hate crimes.

“I appreciate the apology from Science’s editor-in-chief, but question how such a sexist, racist, and transphobic cover was selected in the first place.”

The letter goes on to describe the cover as “just one symptom of wider, systematic hostility towards women and minorities in science”, and concludes: “As one of the nation’s preeminent science organizations, I expect you will take action to eradicate harassment and inequality in the scientific community. Please reply with the specific steps you will take to become part of the solution, instead of a contributor to the problem.”

Ms Speier has previously spoken in support of LGBT rights by campaigning for a national ban on gay conversion therapy for minors. Her website states that she was an original cosponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act to repeal DOMA, and is a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus in Congress.