NZ Herald apologises for 'offensive' transgender comic strip

The New Zealand Herald has apologised for publishing a cartoon widely condemned as transphobic.

Instalments of the UK comic Alex regularly appear in the Business section of the newspaper. First printed in 1987, Alex is set in a satirical corporate financial environment.

Wednesday's strip showed two male bankers discussing their colleague 'Stephanie', a transgender woman drawn as a masculine-looking figure in a skirt and high heels.

One of the men observes that "as a transgender, Stephanie has a really good deal". He goes on to say that she is permitted to take time off work to receive medical treatments and therapy as part of her transition "with no questions asked".

The Alex comic strip printed in the April 10 edition of the NZ Herald.
The Alex comic strip printed in the April 10 edition of the NZ Herald. Photo credit: NZME

"Basically she has carte blanche to skive off at will on the bank's time, and even when she comes back to work no one dares challenge her... unlike if she was still a man," he says.

The other man notes Stephanie's voice is "more gravelly than ever", which his co-worker explains is because she's been bunking off work to cheer at a rugby game.

The comic was roundly criticised when it was posted to the r/newzealand Reddit forum. It's also been called bigoted by Twitter users, some of whom questioned whether NZME deserved its 'Rainbow Tick', which is awarded to companies that show solidarity with the LGBT community.

An NZME spokesperson has offered an apology for the Herald's decision to print the strip.

"We sincerely apologise for the offence caused by the cartoon - we believe it was meant to highlight transphobia and was not intended to be offensive to the transgender community," they told Newshub.

"The cartoon missed the mark. We will be more vigilant in future."

An apology was also printed in the Thursday edition of the Herald.

The character of Stephanie has appeared in previous Alex comics, and her transition from male to female has formed the basis of a long-running sub-plot. She is portrayed as cunning and selfish, and it's suggested she doesn't really identify as a woman but pretends to be transgender because it affords her certain professional advantages.

In earlier cartoons, Stephanie's colleagues consistently use male pronouns when referring to her, although in later instalments they call her 'she'.

In one comic, Stephanie meets a transgender man who, it's implied, is also using his identity to get ahead in his workplace. His remarks seem to ridicule the wave of social activism that has allowed trans people to live more openly in recent years.

"If you were a proper 'woke' transgender who was versed in the ideology of trans-activism you'd know exactly what to say," he tells Stephanie. "You'd 'no-platform' me and refuse to even debate it."

The creators of Alex have been approached for comment.

The UK is home to an active mainstream movement of feminists who are suspicious of transgender people, often pejoratively called trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs). The issue has become particularly heated in recent months as the UK government debated changing its Gender Recognition Act to allow people to legally change their gender more easily.

A similar debate is ongoing in New Zealand after the Government halted a proposed 'self-ID' law due to public pressure from lobby groups such as Family First and Speak Up For Women.