Most of the top 50 newspapers in the U.S. failed to cover a proposed anti-LGBTQ rule from the Trump-Pence administration’s Department of Health and Human Services that removes language protecting people from discrimination in HHS grant programs, including protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The proposed rule, introduced on November 1, will allow federally funded adoption and foster care agencies to refuse to work with prospective LGBTQ parents. The rule 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 would begin enforcing the change immediately.
The Trump-Pence administration's most recent anti-LGBTQ rule is part of its relentless crusade against the rights of LGBTQ people. Over the past three years, the administration has rolled back federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in housing, health care, education, and employment, among other areas.
The new anti-LGBTQ rule will have particularly devastating effects on children in the U.S. foster care system. Julie Kruse, director of federal policy at the LGBTQ advocacy group Family Equality, has said that the rule will “further limit the pool of loving homes available to America’s 440,000 foster children.” Considering that LGBTQ youth are already overrepresented in the foster care system and are more likely to face foster care placement instability, it is clear that this rule will further marginalize an already vulnerable population.
A majority of top U.S. newspapers failed to report on the Trump administration's anti-LGBTQ rule
A Media Matters review of the top 50 U.S. newspapers — identified by average Sunday circulation according to Pew Research Center — found that 28 did not run a single news report in print or online about the HHS rule following its announcement on November 1 through November 10. These newspapers were:
The Arizona Republic, The Boston Globe, The Buffalo News, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), The Dallas Morning News, The Denver Post, The Columbus Dispatch, El Nuevo Dia (Puerto Rico), Detroit Free Press, The Indianapolis Star, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Los Angeles Times, MLive (Michigan), NJ.com (New Jersey), Newsday (New York City), New York Post, The Orange County Register, Omaha World-Herald, The Oregonian, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk), Honolulu Star Advertiser, Chicago Sun-Times, The Post-Standard (Syracuse), Tampa Bay Times, The St. Paul Pioneer Press, and USA Today.
Twenty-two of the top 50 newspapers did feature online or print news articles on the new rule, including running stories from The Associated Press and other wires, from November 1 through November 10:
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Hartford Courant, The Kansas City Star, The Mercury News, San Antonio Express-News, New York Daily News, The New York Times, Orlando Sentinel, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Sacramento Bee, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Seattle Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sun Sentinel (South Florida), The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.
There were several strong examples of good reporting practices in outlets that did cover the new HHS rule. The New York Times notably highlighted the number of children in the foster care system and the number of same-sex couples raising children in the U.S., noting that “same-sex couples with children were far more likely than different-sex couples with children to have an adopted child.” Additionally, The Kansas City Star reported on Rep. Sharice Davids’ (D-KS) letter urging other members of the state’s congressional delegation to oppose the anti-LGBTQ rule, quoting her comments on the “cruel and baseless” harm it would do to prospective parents and youth in foster care. The story was reprinted in the Chicago Tribune.
It is also crucial for media to cover individual actions like the new rule as one piece of the Trump-Pence administration’s broader, vehemently anti-LGBTQ record. The New York Daily News and The Washington Post provided two good examples of this in their reporting, as both contextualized the rule as part of the larger attack and rollback of LGBTQ rights. Most coverage unfortunately failed to do this, which may mislead readers into thinking the administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights could be a one-off occurrence.
Moreover, many of the newspapers that reported on the new rule uncritically quoted extreme anti-LGBTQ groups that have fueled President Donald Trump’s bigoted agenda. Figures from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Family Research Council (FRC) were quoted in several reports, and the organizations were speciously described as a “Christian nonprofit group focused on religious liberty” or “a conservative advocacy group,” respectively, among other language whitewashing their extremism. In reality, ADF and FRC have spent decades demeaning, marginalizing, and attacking the LGBTQ community. The New York Daily News’ Muri Assunção was the only reporter to contextualize FRC as extreme.
Trump’s attacks on the LBGTQ community have been underreported and have negative impacts on LGBTQ people
Before the 2016 election, some journalists repeatedly pushed the narrative that Trump would be a pro-LGBTQ president. By failing to report on the HHS rule and other aspects of the administration's anti-LGBTQ agenda, outlets continue to paint an inaccurate picture of the administration’s stance toward LGBTQ rights.
In the absence of meaningful mainstream reporting on Trump's anti-LGBTQ onslaught, right-wing and evangelical media often dominate coverage of the issue and twist the attacks on basic LGBTQ rights into a fight for “religious freedom.”
In the week following the rule, a Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) piece that made no mention of the rule’s impact on LGBTQ people was the highest performing article about the issue on social media and earned nearly 120,000 Facebook interactions, which was more than twice as many as an article from The New York Times, according to social media analytics site BuzzSumo. An op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that supported the discriminatory rule and called the nondiscrimination protections “anti-religious” earned 122,000 Facebook engagements.
Media outlets, particularly the top newspapers in the U.S., must cover the Trump-Pence administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights and report on the detrimental impacts these rules will have on the LGBTQ community. Major outlets failed their audiences when they ignored the new HHS policy, which “could have devastating effects,” according to Vox, “including keeping children from finding homes and even funneling them into the prison system.”
Media Matters searched the top 50 U.S. newspapers as compiled in Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media report for articles about the November 1 rule change proposed by Health and Human Services that would allow faith-based adoption and foster care agencies to continue to receive federal aid even if they discriminate against LGBTQ families. We searched for articles published November 1 through 10, 2019.
We conducted Google site searches of each paper for any of the following terms: “LGBT,” “LGBTQ,” ”HHS," “gay,” “lesbian,” “transgender,” “bisexual,” “adoption,” “foster care,” or “Health and Human Services.” We also conducted searches within the Nexis database for any of the terms “Health and Human Services,” “HHS,” “Trump,” ”child welfare," “grant,” “adoption,” “foster care,” or “Azar” within close proximity of any of the terms “LGBTQ,” “LGBT,” “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “trans,” “transgender,” “same-sex,” “religious,” “discrimination,” “nondiscrimination,” “non-discrimination," or “same sex.” For papers not available in the Nexis database, we searched the Factiva database for the same terms as our search within Nexis.