The Kiwi photographer behind National Geographic's history-making cover says people responding negatively to seeing a photo of a transgender child need to "get over it".

Photojournalist Robin Hammond grew up in Wellington and has spent nearly two decades working around the world with LGBTQ and other marginalised communities.

He shot the cover photo for National Geographic's January issue featuring the magazine's first transgender cover model: 9-year-old Avery Jackson, from Kansas.

The cover illustrates the magazine's special issue focusing on the "gender revolution".


Speaking to the Herald from Ghana, where he is shooting for a series about mental health, Hammond said people who felt that way were likely scared of change.

"They saw a world where [being trans] didn't exist and now they see it as a new thing. It's sad for them because it leaves them closed off to people who are different to them," he said.

"When I met Avery there was no doubt in my mind she was a girl. Who am I to say who she is anyway? She says she's a girl, why would I doubt that?

"Gender is way more than what we have in our pants. Transgender people have been around forever and will continue to be around forever and people need to get over that."

Kiwi photojournalist Robin Hammond says no one has the right to decide someone else's gender for them. Photo/ Twitter
Kiwi photojournalist Robin Hammond says no one has the right to decide someone else's gender for them. Photo/ Twitter

Positive feedback had come in the form of many touching messages, including one from a teacher in the United States whose school didn't allow LGBTQ magazines, but did stock National Geographic in the library.

She told Avery's mum that finally her gender-diverse students would have something to identify with.

"Avery being on the cover, for hundreds of thousands of children around the world, I hope it makes it okay. I hope that's also what gets to parents."

Hammond said gender identity was the world's new big cultural battleground and he hoped his work played a part in making transgendered people visible.


"It's about trying to amplify marginalised voices. I have a fundamental belief that any human rights abuse will continue while survivor's voices are silenced because the narrative will always be controlled by the abuser."

Humans were emotional beings and telling marginalised people's stories was one way to begin to break down barriers, he said.

"It's not the same as meeting someone in person, but I think it goes some way.

"We can read statistics and facts but when we meet somebody it's so much harder to hate them."

Jackson was one of about 80 children Hammond photographed, as National Geographic wanted to capture the range of diversity in gender expression.

"We wanted a geographic cross-section," he said.

"National Geographic is very visual, it was very important we had a great diversity in the way the children presented."

This was Hammond's fifth time shooting for the magazine.