A Top Editor Becomes Her ‘True Self’

Gina Chua is returning to the Reuters offices post-pandemic as one of the most senior transgender journalists in the country.

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For most people, the pandemic lockdowns will be remembered as a time that shrank our worlds, stripping away most of life as we knew it. For Gina Chua, the executive editor of Reuters, it was when her world opened up.

Ms. Chua, 60, transitioned genders during 2020, using the time at home and away from the office to, as she describes it, “grow into this skin.” On Dec. 18, she wrote to her colleagues at Reuters to inform them of the change.

“For some time now I’ve been on a journey,” she said in the email. “It’s mostly been private, internal and exploratory, but it’s time to move beyond that and mark a new milestone in that passage. I’m transgender. And beginning today I’ll be living and presenting as what I know to be my true self 100 percent of the time.”

Ms. Chua is now perhaps the most senior transgender journalist in the country. She said in an interview that she was speaking publicly because “it’s good to just have people be able to say, ‘Here is an example of somebody who can transition and not get fired.'”

“There are a lot of people who are 14 years old who would like to know that this is not a death sentence,” she said. “It’s not a millstone. It’s something you can be proud of, it’s something you can celebrate and something you can live with.”

Ms. Chua was promoted last month to the newly created executive editor role at Reuters, overseeing all editorial operations for the multimedia news organization, which has 2,500 journalists in 200 locations globally. She reports to Alessandra Galloni, who was named editor in chief in April and is the first woman to hold that role in the news agency’s 170-year history.

Ms. Galloni and Ms. Chua are at the helm at a time when many news organizations are grappling with how the perspectives of newsroom leadership can shape coverage, and working to improve the diversity in senior editor ranks. Reuters, once seen by competitors as a staid wire service known more for financial news alerts than pushing boundaries, appears to have had more success than others in delivering on those goals.

“We reach billions of people as an industry, and I think we have a responsibility to ensure that the stories we tell are representative, truly representative, of the world that we live in,” Ms. Chua said.

Ms. Chua is central to an expanded vision for Reuters, which supplies stories, photos and video footage to thousands of other news outlets across the world. About half of Reuters’s revenue comes from a financial data service, called Refinitiv, that it once owned. Reuters gets at least $325 million annually for supplying news to Refinitiv’s customers — making financial news a critical part of its business.

Reuters is now trying to offer a livelier product to a more general audience of professionals in the vein of its competitors, which include Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. It announced in April that it would put its website behind a paywall, though that plan has been postponed amid a dispute with Refinitiv. Ms. Chua is charged with spearheading new tech initiatives that will deliver new methods of storytelling and help the company find new audiences. It’s a tall order, and one she says she is focusing on with the added benefit of having “freed up 20 percent of my brain” that had been devoted to thinking about her transition.

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“I want to stop hiding. I want to be able to live in the sunlight,” Ms. Chua said.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Growing up in a Catholic household in Singapore in the 1960s, Ms. Chua said, she had always had “a sense of disquiet and uncertainty” but did not at the time know of the concept of being trans.

“Back in the day there was no internet, there was nothing to read up on. How could you know?” she said. But she wrestled with a feeling of “what is this, why aren’t I more like other people?”

After completing a bachelor’s in mathematics at the University of Chicago, Ms. Chua worked at the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation with the goal of eventually going to law school, but fell in love with journalism. She received a master’s degree from Columbia, and then worked as a reporter throughout Southeast Asia in the 1990s before becoming the editor in chief of the Asia edition of The Wall Street Journal.

In 2005, Ms. Chua moved to New York City for a senior editing job at The Journal, eventually running the publication’s graphics and design departments. It was upon her return to the United States that she began to accept that she was trans, she said.

“I was still saying to myself, ‘Fine, but I’m not transitioning. That’s too hard, and it can’t be done,'” Ms. Chua said. “And you live this double life, and that’s painful. You grow up through that period with two sets of friends, two sets of weekends, two sets of activities.”

After another stint in Hong Kong as the editor in chief of the South China Morning Post newspaper, Ms. Chua took a job at Reuters in New York in 2011 as the editor for data and developed the company’s data and graphics teams.

Ms. Chua credits her close circle of trans friends in New York, who all work outside the media industry, with helping her to see that a transition could be possible.

“I think part of the decision was, ‘I can do it and not get killed. I can do it and mostly not get killed and still go to the bathroom,'” she said. “But the entire thinking is really around the question of, I want to stop hiding. I want to be able to live in the sunlight.”

About two years ago, she started to confide in people about her intention to transition, including her boss at the time, Stephen J. Adler, who was the editor in chief of Reuters for a decade and retired in April.

“I did not have any sense of it before she told me, so it was definitely a surprise, but a happy surprise because she clearly was feeling very positive about it and very excited about being able to be herself,” Mr. Adler said.

After her December email, Ms. Chua was surprised by the number of people who reached out to share their own experiences or those of friends and family members.

“Everybody who knows me says I’m smiling a lot more,” Ms. Chua said.

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“Everybody who knows me says I’m smiling a lot more; I seem happier; I just seem more comfortable,” Ms. Chua said.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

At a time when transgender issues are regularly in the news, with a recent flood of bills being introduced in mostly Republican-led states that aim to restrict transgender rights, Ms. Chua said her own experience had led her to think more deeply about how the media covers stories like hers.

“You have to be careful who your sources are,” Ms. Chua said. “There are organizations who purport to speak for one side or the other and they are not the right ones, even if they are the loudest ones.”

While there are no statistics on how many American journalists identify as L.G.B.T.Q., an industry body that represents them has more than 1,000 members, while the relatively new Trans Journalists Association counts about 400 members.

Ms. Chua warned of the danger of portraying trans people or those in minority communities as victims, rather than people “as fully fleshed out as they would be in any other story.”

Her friends are seeing her fully fleshed out in her own life, too.

“I loved her before, but there’s just this extra level of comfort now,” said Anya Schiffrin, a media scholar at Columbia who first met Ms. Chua in Southeast Asia in the early 1990s. Ms. Schiffrin said she was delighted Ms. Chua was willing to talk about her experiences.

“All of this talking about her personal life and her feelings is really a new thing for all of us,” she said, adding: “We have a few friends whose kids are transitioning, and she’s said she’s happy to talk to them.”

As New York City continues to reopen, Ms. Chua is preparing for a return to the Reuters office in July amid significant changes: A new job and a new public identity. It will require some adaptation — a skill she sees as necessary for the media business as a whole.

“We’re getting closer to rethinking what stories are about, who they are for, or what matters,” she said. “And I think that’s driven in some part by the audience changing and the way stories are being distributed. There are many more avenues for people to call out stories that they feel are lacking.”

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