From the day President Joe Biden took office through March 18, Fox News aired 86 segments featuring discussions about transgender people, the majority of which fearmongered about trans athletes and lied about best practice health care for trans youth.
Fox anchors, hosts, and guests also cited trans issues in 65 passing mentions, often describing them critically or listing them among examples of supposedly extreme Democratic policies.
The majority of these Fox segments used trans issues to criticize the Biden administration, with 52 examples mentioning Biden’s pro-LGBTQ actions such as his executive order instructing federal agencies to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination in numerous areas of public life and his support for the Equality Act, a comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimation bill supported by seven in 10 voters.
Fox’s increasing obsession with trans people during the Biden administration is in lockstep with Republican officials and prominent conservative figures’ vitriolic campaign to make trans rights into a wedge issue for future elections. During this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, former President Donald Trump notably mentioned trans athletes, which he has rarely commented on. And according to the Human Rights Campaign, state legislators have introduced over 80 bills targeting trans people in 2021, the highest number of anti-trans bills in history.
Fox News has aired 86 segments discussing trans issues since January 20, mostly about Biden policies
From January 20 through March 18, the first 57 days of Biden's presidency, Fox News aired at least 86 original segments that discussed trans issues. Media Matters coded the topics discussed in each segment, including whether anchors, hosts, or guests mentioned Biden’s actions, trans athletes, or health care for trans youth. (These codes are not mutually exclusive, as segments often covered multiple topics.)
Key findings from the 86 segments featuring discussion on trans issues include:
- There were 52 segments during the time period studied that mentioned the Biden administration’s pro-trans actions, the majority of which framed support for trans equality as an extreme position.
- Fox anchors, hosts, and guests mentioned trans athletes in 54 segments, often falsely claiming that allowing trans girls and women to participate in athletic competitions will “destroy” women’s sports. Fox personalities repeatedly misgendered those athletes as “biological males.”
- There were 33 segments that mentioned Biden’s executive order protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. Nearly all of these segments misleadingly characterized the order as being solely focused on trans athletes, completely ignoring its broader nondiscrimination protections. Anti-trans author Abigail Shrier went so far as to claim on Tucker Carlson Tonight that the executive order is “probably the greatest blow to women's rights we've seen in decades.”
- Fox anchors, hosts, and guests also mentioned the Equality Act in 18 segments during the studied time period. In one particularly extreme example, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich called the legislation the “gay and transsexual supremacy act,” and Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade added that he’s “embarrassed” America’s pro-trans policies are “infecting the world.”
- There were 15 segments that mentioned health care for trans youth. Many of these segments spread medical misinformation and ignored medical professionals’ widely held view that trans youth should have access to gender-affirming health care. In one segment, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) claimed that allowing trans kids to access affirming health care is “a crime against nature.”
- There were 27 segments mentioning trans issues on Fox’s so-called “straight news” programs, while the remaining 59 discussions were from its opinion programs.
- Fox & Friends and its weekend counterparts had the most segments about trans issues at 18. Fox & Friends First, the network’s weekday early morning show, had the second most segments about trans issues at 14, followed by Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream with 12, and Tucker Carlson Tonight with nine.
- Fox “news"-side anchor Shannon Bream hosted three elected Republicans who spread anti-trans rhetoric about the Equality Act: On March 18, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) lied that it will “replace mom and dad with bureaucrats”; Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) fearmongered on March 1 that the act would “require our schools to expose girls in a junior high locker room to the genitals of a boy who identifies as a girl”; and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) made the absurd claim on March 17 that “serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein could transition to being a woman tomorrow, and the Equality Act would require the government to put him in a women's prison.”
- Fox hosted extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) lawyers and clients 10 separate times. Nine of the appearances specifically focused on ADF’s lawsuits seeking to ban trans athletes in Connecticut and Idaho from competing on teams that match their gender identity. In the other segment, ADF lawyer Kristen Waggoner fearmongered about the Equality Act, claiming that it is “a dangerous and massive expansion of government power.”
In addition to the 86 segments discussing trans issues, Fox anchors, hosts, and guests also referenced the trans community in passing mentions 65 times during segments that were not about trans issues. Nevertheless, Fox personalities regularly brought up trans issues to attack supposed Democratic extremism, including once asserting that Democrats want an America where “transgender dominates Christianity and Judaism.”
Over one-third of these mentions (26) referenced Biden’s support for trans athletes. Fox personalities repeatedly and falsely attacked these actions, claiming that Biden’s “transgender athletic declaration” will “destroy women’s sports.”
Under the Biden administration, Fox News has escalated the right-wing campaign to demonize trans people as a political strategy
Right-wing media attacks on trans people are not new -- conservative outlets, particularly Fox News, have spent years targeting the trans community and opposing nondiscrimination protections for them. But media outlets and advocates have taken note that these attacks have increased as the GOP lost the Senate and White House and now seeks to make up that ground in the 2022 election.
These efforts have been aided by Facebook, where right-wing content about trans people often earns disproportionately high engagement and skews the public's understanding of the issue. A July 2020 Media Matters study of Facebook content about trans topics earning at least 100,000 interactions (likes, comments, and shares) during a one-year time period found that content about trans issues from right-leaning sources “earned nearly two times the engagement of all other sources combined” on Facebook.
The deluge of right-wing misinformation and bigotry has dire impacts on the trans community. It threatens the safety and well-being of trans people while taking focus away from the pressing issues they face, such as being disproportionately vulnerable to violence due to discriminatory social factors and heightened barriers to accessing health care, stable housing, and jobs.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any of the terms or any variations of the terms “transgender,” “trans,” “transphobe,” “transphobic,” “transphobia,” “gender identity,” “gender nonconforming,” “gender fluid,” “nonbinary,” “women’s sports,” “girl’s sports,” “biologically,” or “biological” from January 20 through March 18, 2021.
We conducted a similar search of transcripts in the Nexis database for the above terms; however, this search was limited to 5 p.m. to midnight each day as transcripts for Fox’s daytime programming are not available in Nexis. We also searched transcripts from Fox in the Kinetiq database for all of the above terms between 7 p.m. EST January 22 through midnight on January 23, 2021, due to maintenance of the SnapStream database during that time.
We defined segments as instances when trans issues were the stated topic of discussion or when there was significant discussion of trans issues. We defined “significant discussion” as any back-and-forth exchange between two or more people. We included passing mentions that mentioned trans issues as a separate measure in the analysis. We did not include previews or teasers of upcoming segments.