Update (11/4/19): On November 1, the Trump-Pence administration’s Department of Health and Services (HHS) proposed a new rule that will remove language protecting people from discrimination in HHS grant programs, including on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This will allow federally funded adoption and foster care agencies to refuse to work with prospective LGBTQ parents and will also apply to grants involving “HIV and sexually transmitted disease prevention, other public health initiatives, health education, prekindergarten programs and more,” according to The Washington Post. HHS said it will begin enforcing the change immediately.
In the span of three days, new reports revealed several proposed or potential rules coming from the Trump-Pence administration that would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people -- particularly trans folks -- in housing, health care, and adoption and foster care. But in the week that followed, from May 22 to May 31, nearly all cable and broadcast TV news channels failed to cover these attacks on the LGBTQ community. Broadcast networks ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC, as well as cable network MSNBC, did not mention the discriminatory rules at all, while CNN and Fox News covered them for a total of less than 11 minutes across 8 segments.
The Trump-Pence administration is releasing discriminatory anti-LGBTQ proposals in housing, health care, and adoption and foster care
Between May 22 and 24, news outlets reported on several rules coming out of the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) that would harm LGBTQ people, with a disproportionate impact on the trans community:
- On May 22, HUD proposed a new rule that would allow “federally funded [homeless] shelters to deny people admission on religious grounds or force transgender women to share bathrooms and sleeping quarters with men,” according to The Washington Post.
- On May 24, HHS proposed a rule that would allow health care workers citing religious beliefs to discriminate against and deny care to LGBTQ patients.
- Later on May 24, Axios reported that the Trump-Pence administration’s HHS plans to propose a new rule that would make it easier for federally funded adoption and foster care agencies to refuse to work with LGBTQ prospective parents, among others, fulfilling a promise President Donald Trump made during this year’s National Prayer Breakfast.
Broadcast and cable news discussed the proposed rules for less than 11 minutes across 8 segments
Between May 22 and May 31, broadcast TV news networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX and cable news network MSNBC did not mention the proposed anti-LGBTQ rules at all. CNN spent 7.5 minutes covering the topics, and Fox News reported on them for roughly 3.5 minutes.
CNN discussed the topics over the span of six segments, including during an interview with trans actor D’Lo about an advertisement featuring a father showing his transgender son how to shave. That segment was the only relevant coverage during the time period to feature an LGBTQ guest. Fox News covered the topics over two segments. One was an interview with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, in which he misleadingly framed the discriminatory rule as “being fair to everybody.”
Print and digital media reported on all the three rules and contextualized the administration’s anti-LGBTQ agenda
The failure of several broadcast and cable TV networks to report on the discriminatory rules was not reflected in print and digital media.
Trans writer Katelyn Burns wrote two op-eds contextualizing the recent anti-LGBTQ attacks as part of Trump’s all-out assault on the transgender community. In Teen Vogue, she outlined how these policies could trigger suicidal ideation in trans youth, encourage unsupportive parents, and prevent young people from accessing medically necessary care. In The Washington Post, Burns called HHS’ proposed rule “the cruelest thing the Trump administration has done to trans people,” writing:
For me, as a transgender person, this administration’s constant targeting of us is terrifying. It seems that there’s little they won’t do to making transitioning and living a dignified life as a transgender person impossible. Trump and his administration are clearly prioritizing the desires of religious conservatives who would like to see my existence rubbed out of society, and they’ve come this far so quickly with barely a blip of resistance.
Digital outlets such as BuzzFeed, The Daily Beast, and HuffPost also covered the rules, citing LGBTQ advocates and contextualizing the administration’s moves as part of a wider strategy to undermine LGBTQ equality across the country.
These attacks have been championed by extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and will further marginalize already vulnerable people
The Trump-Pence administration’s anti-LGBTQ policies have been fueled by influential right-wing organizations such as the Heritage Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), both of which have allies and alumni serving in positions across the federal government. For example, the right-wing HHS Office for Civil Rights, which is led by Roger Severino, is responsible for both the anti-LGBTQ health care rule and the reported upcoming adoption and foster care rule. Severino formerly served as the director of Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. Heritage has a long history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy and has increasingly targeted transgender people. Severino has made a career out of advocating against LGBTQ rights and was behind several other anti-LGBTQ actions from HHS. Severino’s newly announced principal advisor, Matt Bowman, is an anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ advocate who has worked in HHS positions since 2017. He formerly worked with ADF for more than a decade.
Ultimately, these latest attacks affect transgender people in areas in which they are already more likely to experience discrimination and hardships. HUD’s proposed rule to give federally funded homeless shelters a license to discriminate against transgender people will only further marginalize an already vulnerable community that faces alarming rates of homelessness. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), “one in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness,” and up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.
The reported HHS rule to allow agencies to deny children adoption and foster care placements with same-sex couples will only limit opportunities for the more than 400,000 children currently in foster care. Despite the planned HHS rule, there is a robust body of evidence that shows children of same-sex couples fare no worse than other children.
Further, the HHS rule to gut nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the administration’s most damaging attacks on the transgender community. Transgender patients already face denial of health care and discrimination in health care settings, and National Geographic has reported that transgender “people have disproportionately high rates of illness and death—in part due to widespread reluctance to seek out emergency treatment and even routine checkups over concerns about the quality of care.” Additionally, NCTE’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reported that among respondents, “one-third (33%) of those who saw a health care provider had at least one negative experience related to being transgender” in the previous year.
Media has a responsibility to report on these devastating attacks against the LGBTQ community
The insufficient reporting on cable and broadcast TV news about the recent attacks on the LGBTQ community plays into the Trump-Pence administration’s strategy of minimizing press coverage of extreme policies coming from federal agencies. The administration released one of the rules ahead of a holiday weekend, which decreased public awareness of the issues -- an approach it has also taken to bury climate change research.
Moreover, media’s obsession with Trump’s tweets allow extreme anti-LGBTQ figures to push discriminatory policies with little notice. Reporting on the new HHS rule, Reuters’ Yasmeen Abutaleb and Joseph Tanfani wrote:
One of the benefits of Trump’s Twitter approach is it creates headlines, and that’s what it’s intended to do, and underneath those headlines, everyone else in the administration can go about peacefully doing their job,” said David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth and a longtime Pence friend. HHS has “released several very important, significant regulations that changed the nature of Obamacare, of healthcare, with very little coverage in the press.
Though cable and broadcast TV news spent little time covering the administration’s latest anti-LGBTQ rules, there is no mistaking that these decisions will have sweeping impacts on queer and trans people. Media outlets have a responsibility to properly cover the administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights and to educate their audiences on the detrimental impacts these proposed rules will have on an already vulnerable community. Unfortunately, TV news failed both the queer community and their audience by barely reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s latest anti-LGBTQ attacks.
From May 24 to May 31, the week following the announcement of the proposed anti-LGBTQ rules, Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of broadcast and cable TV newscasts on ABC News, CBS News, CNN, and NBC News -- as well as the 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. programming on Fox News and MSNBC -- for mentions of the words or variations of the words “LGBT,” “gay,” “transgender,” “gender identity,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “sexual orientation.” We also searched SnapStream for the same words appearing with the terms “child welfare,” “reassignment,” “abortion,” “housing,” “shelter,” “adoption,” “foster care,” “Health and Human Services,” “Housing and Urban Development,” “HHS,” or “HUD” appearing on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC for the same timeframe, as daytime coverage for MSNBC and Fox News is not available on Nexis.
Additional research by Brianna January.