New Zealand Herald pulls long-running 'transphobic' Alex cartoon after backlash

The New Zealand Herald will no longer print a long-running comic strip after a cartoon was widely interpreted as transphobic.

In the Wednesday instalment of Alex, a UK-based financial satire that's been running since 1987, two male bankers discuss their transgender colleague Stephanie.

They observe that she has enjoyed certain workplace privileges since coming out as trans, such as being allowed to "skive off at will on the bank's time" to attend therapy or receive medical treatment.

Previous comics portrayed Stephanie as selfish and cunning, and it was implied she identified as trans solely to receive special treatment at work.

Wednesday's cartoon was met with widespread disgust from readers and social media users, many of whom said they'd contacted the Herald to complain about it.

Thursday's edition included a formal apology, and NZME has since announced the Alex cartoon will no longer be published in future newspapers.

In a statement, an NZME spokesperson reiterated the company's belief that the cartoon was meant to "highlight transphobia" rather than mock transgender people.

"An apology has run in today's paper and we have decided to replace the Alex cartoon effective immediately," they told Newshub.

"Please be assured we will do everything to make sure this does not occur in future."

The apology printed in Thursday's edition of the New Zealand Herald.
The apology printed in Thursday's edition of the New Zealand Herald. Photo credit: NZME

Gender Minorities Aotearoa told Newshub the comic promoted a "conspiracy theory about trans women" in its suggestion that Stephanie had an easier time at work as a transgender woman than as a cisgender man.

"According to qualitative and quantitative research from New Zealand and overseas, trans women have a much harder time finding and keeping work, struggle with income inequality, and experience high levels of discrimination in the workplace when compared to people of other genders," a spokesperson said.

"The comic is basically saying the opposite."

They cited a 2018 article which said 20 percent of transgender Kiwis have experienced workplace harassment or mistreatment, 25 percent have had trouble accessing bathrooms at work and almost 20 percent had lost or felt pressured to leave a job due to being trans.

It's not yet known which cartoon will take Alex's place, although local artist Sam Orchard - creator of the Rooster Tails online comic - has been suggested as an alternative.

Orchard, who is trans, told Newshub he's disappointed the Herald ran the comic and then tried to defend it as "highlighting transphobia".

"I don't understand how it was highlighting transphobia, it wasn't clever or funny or poignant. It was just cruel."

He said he'd like to see the Herald feature a Kiwi cartoonist rather than pick another international comic strip to run.

"There are some amazing cartoonists in this country, and I'm surprised that more newspapers aren't supporting or creating opportunities local cartoonists to have their strips syndicated."