Rep. Tulsi Gabbard's anti-trans athlete bill gave right-wing media fodder to attack trans youth ahead of legislative sessions
In a year when at least 41 trans and gender nonconforming people have been killed, Gabbard’s bill becomes one of the top stories about trans issues
Right-wing media outlets have earned more than two million Facebook interactions on content praising a new bill introduced by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) that would prevent trans athletes from competing as their authentic selves in school sports. Advocates have called the bill “blatantly transphobic” and said it was “weaponizing ... fear of transness to hurt all women.”
Notably, Gabbard has previously worked for an anti-LGBTQ organization and opposed LGBTQ rights, though she claimed to be committed “to fighting for LGBTQ equality” during her failed 2020 presidential run. Staff from extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is leading the charge against trans athletes, praised Gabbard’s bill.
The December 10 introduction of Gabbard’s bill -- and right-wing media’s support for it -- comes as state legislatures across the country will consider similar measures in their 2021 legislative sessions. A recent Media Matters study found that nearly 24% of all content about trans issues earning more than 100,000 Facebook interactions was right-leaning content about trans athletes, which received “nearly one third of all Facebook engagement on top trans-related content” -- dominating the conversation and shifting focus away from other important issues impacting the trans community, such as employment discrimination and high rates of violence.
This obsessive coverage helped lay the groundwork for states to introduce anti-trans athletes bills during their 2020 legislative sessions and will continue to do so in 2021.
Right-wing content about Gabbard’s bill earned over 2 million Facebook interactions and counting
Right-wing content about Gabbard’s bill earned a combined total of more than 2 million Facebook interactions (reactions, comments, and shares) in the days following its introduction, making it one of the top social media narratives about trans issues in 2020.
According to the CrowdTangle extension for Google, anti-LGBTQ outlet The Daily Wire earned nearly 1.2 million total interactions on two articles about Gabbard’s bill; those articles misgendered trans athletes, calling trans women “biological men.” The outlet’s network of Facebook pages shared the articles multiple times at the exact same time on the platform, including sharing the December 11 article four times each on the pages of Ben Shapiro, Michael Knowles, Matt Walsh, and The Daily Wire. Shapiro’s series of posts earned almost 500,000 total interactions. Similarly, the same pages shared the December 13 article two times each.
Other right-wing outlets and programs like TheBlaze, Newsmax, and Louder with Crowder earned over 100,000 interactions each on content about the bill, and The Dan Bongino Show earned over 364,000 interactions. Some of these articles misgendered trans athletes or demeaned the trans community -- the Louder with Crowder article said, “Transgenders remain #1 on the left's pound-for-pound most marginalized rankings.”
Comparatively, HuffPost earned 117,000 Facebook interactions, queer outlet LGBTQ Nation earned under 93,000 interactions, and Time magazine and Newsweek earned less than 26,000 and 12,000 interactions, respectively.
In a year when at least 41 trans and gender nonconforming people have been killed in the U.S., Facebook continues to enable anti-trans narratives to spread and overshadow legitimate, mainstream reporting on issues affecting the trans community. With right-wing media outlets now using the social media platform to promote Gabbard’s anti-trans legislation, Facebook shows no sign of correcting this trend going into 2021.