| Demonstration at White House 2017 CC photo Ted Eytan | MR Online Demonstration at White House, 2017 (CC photo: Ted Eytan)

It’s time to hold news media accountable for transphobia

Originally published: FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) on November 23, 2022 by Olivia Riggio (more by FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting))  | (Posted Nov 28, 2022)

Five people are dead and more than a dozen others injured after a gunman opened fire at Club Q, a LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs in the early hours of November 20.

November 20 is also Transgender Day of Remembrance, which memorializes victims of anti-trans violence. Two transgender people, Kelly Loving and Daniel Aston, are among the dead in Colorado Springs. This attack was reminiscent of the 2015 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in which the gunman took 49 lives. If two Club Q patrons—Richard Fierro, an Army veteran, and an unnamed patron who witnesses say was a trans woman—did not disarm the shooter, he likely would have killed more people.

As morally depraved transphobic politicians like Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert offer their “thoughts and prayers,” and news outlets offer wall-to-wall coverage of the tragedy, it is important to remember the media’s role in normalizing violent and hateful right-wing rhetoric.

MSNBC’s Ben Collins (Twitter, 11/22/22) spoke Tuesday morning about the shooting and asked what reporters can do differently to avoid being part of the problem:

I think we have to have a come-to-Jesus moment here, as reporters. Are we more afraid of being on Breitbart for saying that trans people deserve to be alive? Or are we more afraid of dead people?

| In the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting Tucker Carlson Fox News 112122doubled down on transphobia | MR Online

In the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting, Tucker Carlson (Fox News, 11/21/22) doubled down on transphobia.

Conversations on Twitter in response to Collins’ question mention the need for more transgender representation in the newsroom and the need to stop covering anti-LGBTQ talking points as anything but hate.

Documenting transphobia

FAIR has been documenting homophobia (3/7/16, 1 0/24/19, 5/26/21) and transphobia (5/6/21, 9/24/21, 5/5/22) in the corporate press for years. Right-wing pundits like Fox‘s Tucker Carlson certainly come to mind first as culpable in spreading this hate.

In the days since the shooting, Fox News has been relatively silent about the trans issues, with only five mentions as of November 22. And some of the coverage was hate-filled business as usual, as when Caitlin Jenner condemned a young trans athlete for winning in a race on America Reports (FoxNews.com, 11/21/22).

One of the few mentions of the shooting was Carlson himself (11/21/22) lambasting people for blaming an anti-LGBTQ attack on people like him. He claimed people were blaming the right for the mass shooting because they “complained about the sexualizing of children.”

These delusional conspiracy theories about LGBTQ people “grooming” children are a fixture of outlets like Fox. But centrist and “liberal” media must also answer for their platforming of transphobic points of view, and chronic “both-sidesing” of bigots with LGBTQ people and allies.

| The Washington Post 4522 offered up the same bigoted conspiracy theories served by Tucker Carlsonbut presented as neutral reporting | MR Online

The Washington Post (4/5/22) offered up the same bigoted conspiracy theories served by Tucker Carlson—but presented as neutral reporting.

Below is a list of some of the instances of normalized homophobia and transphobia FAIR has documented in recent years:

  • A New York Times article by Judith Shulevitz (10/15/16) argued that anti-transgender sentiment cannot be described as “mere intolerance,” presenting anti-transgender radical feminists as a more rational voice in opposition to trans rights. The article also framed the debate about transgender rights as an issue of “clashing values” (FAIR.org, 11/15/18).
  • Washington Post opinion writer Thomas Wheatley (1/17/17) argued that “society’s broader trend toward gender nullification—and its dissolution of prudent, time-tested boundaries of conduct”—what he described as “the more disagreeable aims of the transgender movement”—will “directly endanger women,” because “traditional gender roles still serve as a deterrent to predatory behavior” (FAIR.org, 11/15/18).
  • An Economist piece headlined “Who Decides Your Gender?” (10/27/18) suggested that allowing gender self-identification could harm efforts to “keep women and children safe” (FAIR.org, 11/15/18).
  • The Guardian (10/17/18) argued for rewriting Britain’s Gender Recognition Act, which allows British citizens to legally change their gender. “Women’s oppression by men has a physical basis, and to deny the relevance of biology when considering sexual inequality is a mistake,” the editorial maintained. “Women’s concerns about sharing dormitories or changing rooms with ‘male-bodied’ people must be taken seriously” (FAIR.org, 9/24/21).
  • CNN (3/16/21) quoted Republican Rep. Andy Biggs calling the federal Equality Act a “devastating attack on humanity” that “recklessly requires girl’s and women’s restrooms, lockers, gyms or any place a female might seek privacy, to surrender that privacy to biological males” (FAIR.org, 3/3/21).
  • NBC (2/25/21) gave the right-wing Heritage Foundation a platform for baseless claims about the impact of the Equality Act—from stating that people might lose their jobs or businesses if they don’t “conform to new sexual norms,” to asserting that the bill would “leave women vulnerable to sexual assault” (FAIR.org, 3/3/21).
  • A New York Times Magazine cover story “The Battle Over Gender Therapy” (6/19/22) wondered if gender-affirming care for trans kids shouldn’t be so easy to access. In doing so, it laundered far-right views for a broader audience, making hostility to trans people’s basic rights more acceptable. Cisgender doctors, not trans youth, are centered in the story (FAIR.org, 6/23/22).
  • The Washington Post (4/5/22) published a piece headlined “Teachers Who Mention Sexuality Are ‘Grooming’ Kids, Conservatives Say.” It spent 12 paragraphs quoting transphobic bigots’ points-of-view before introducing another perspective (FAIR.org, 4/12/22).
| If transgender girls are at the center of Americas culture wars theyre not at the center of this Washington Post piece 12921 only one is quoted in the articles very last paragraph | MR Online

If “transgender girls are at the center of America’s culture wars,” they’re not at the center of this Washington Post piece (1/29/21); only one is quoted, in the article’s very last paragraph.

This list is, of course, not exhaustive.

Transphobia costs lives

FAIR has also documented the lack of transgender youth quoted in both centrist and far-right news outlets (FAIR.org, 5/5/22). When the Washington Post (1/29/21, 4/15/21) covered the anti-transgender sports campaign in two 2021 articles, sources that were transgender athletes were outnumbered 11 to 1 and 17 to 3, respectively (FAIR.org, 5/6/21). Right-wing efforts to demonize trans people (as well as others in the LGBTQ community) are that much more effective when the targets are denied the ability to speak for themselves.

Transgender people are more than four times as likely as cisgender people to experience violence including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault. Transgender people of color are disproportionately victims of fatal violence. Eighty-two percent of trans youth have considered killing themselves, and 40% have tried. Trans adults are more likely to not have health insurance and report cost-related barriers to healthcare. In general, data suggests the mortality rate of trans people is more than twice that of cis people.

The risk of living as a transgender person is widely known, yet news outlets still treat their existence as something that’s up for debate. As we’ve seen time and again, transphobia costs lives.

News outlets need to be held accountable for their complicity in presenting and watering down this hateful, violent ideology.

Olivia Riggio is a journalist and FAIR author who became FAIR’s administrative and fundraising director in April 2021.

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