In 2020, at least 44 transgender and gender nonconforming people were brutally killed in the U.S. -- making it the deadliest year on record for the community. The vast majority of these victims were Black or Latina trans women of color. A Media Matters analysis of broadcast and cable TV news in 2020 found that networks discussed anti-trans violence for only 54 minutes across 23 segments. Reports from MSNBC accounted for more than half of this coverage; every other network covered the topic for less than six minutes each. The analysis looked at corporate broadcast news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as cable news coverage on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.
Top trends from a year of anti-trans violence coverage on broadcast and cable TV news
- In 2020, violence against trans people was discussed for a total of 54 minutes across 23 segments in news programs on six broadcast and cable TV news networks. Cable networks covered the topic for 41 minutes, while broadcast networks covered it for 13 minutes.
- MSNBC aired more than half of the reporting on the topic, at 31 minutes across 10 segments. Every other network covered the topic for six minutes or less.
- More than half of the overall coverage of anti-trans violence came during June, which is LGBTQ Pride Month. That month, TV news networks reported on the topic for 29 minutes.
- Only 9 of the 23 total segments mentioned the name of a slain trans person.
- Notably, 15 of the 23 segments featured a guest who was trans or gender nonconforming.
- Cable networks CNN and Fox News each covered the topic for five minutes; these networks produce thousands of hours of news coverage per year.
- In Fox News’ sole segment on the topic, host Tucker Carlson lied that the epidemic of anti-trans violence is “factually untrue” and falsely claimed that “transgender people are on average, safer than your typical American.”
- Of the broadcast networks, CBS covered anti-trans violence for six minutes, ABC for five minutes, and NBC for two minutes.
At least 44 transgender or gender nonconforming people were killed in 2020 -- the deadliest year on record
In 2020, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) identified at least 44 transgender or gender nonconforming people who were brutally killed in the U.S., marking the deadliest year on record. The majority of victims were trans people of color; at least 26 of the victims were Black, 23 of whom were Black trans women, and 10 were Latinx, nine of whom were Latina trans women.
Many of the killings were particularly brutal: Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos and Layla Pelaez Sánchez were burned to death in a car in Puerto Rico; Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells’ dismembered body was found in a river in Philadelphia; and Courtney “Eshay” Key was shot and dragged by a car on Christmas in Chicago.
The 44 transgender or gender nonconforming people who HRC reported were killed in 2020 were:
Dustin Parker, Neulisa Luciano Ruiz, Yampi Méndez Arocho, Scott/Scottlynn Devore, Monika Diamond, Lexi, Johanna Metzger, Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos, Layla Pelaez Sánchez, Penélope Díaz Ramírez, Nina Pop, Helle Jae O’Regan, Tony McDade, Dominique “Rem'mie” Fells, Riah Milton, Jayne Thompson, Selena Reyes-Hernandez, Brian “Egypt” Powers, Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Bree Black, Summer Taylor, Marilyn Cazares, Dior H Ova, Queasha D Hardy, Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears, Lea Rayshon Daye, Kee Sam, Aerrion Burnett, Mia Green, Michelle Michellyn Ramos Vargas, Felycya Harris, Brooklyn Deshuna, Sara Blackwood, Angel Unique, Skylar Heath, Yunieski Carey Herrera, Asia Jynae Foster, Chae’Meshia Simms, Kimberly Fial, Jaheim Pugh Jaheim Barbie, Courtney “Eshay” Key, and Alexandria Winchester.
Cable news networks spent 41 minutes covering anti-trans violence in 2020, three quarters of which were on MSNBC
From January 1 to December 31, 2020, Media Matters reviewed news programming between 6 a.m. and midnight on cable channels CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. During that time frame, cable news networks spent a total of 41 minutes discussing anti-trans violence across 15 segments.
MSNBC spent the most time reporting on the topic, with 31 minutes of coverage across 10 segments. This was more than three times as many minutes of coverage as CNN and Fox News combined. CNN covered anti-trans violence for five minutes across four segments, while Fox News covered it for five minutes during one segment.
Morning and evening broadcast TV news shows spent 13 minutes covering anti-trans violence in 2020
From January 1 to December 31, 2020, morning and evening corporate broadcast TV news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC spent 13 minutes across eight segments covering anti-trans violence. CBS produced the most reporting with six minutes across two segments. ABC spent five minutes covering the topic across two segments, and NBC spent two minutes across two segments.
The quality of coverage of anti-trans violence varied across networks
A few highlights and notable trends include:
- Over half of the reporting on anti-trans violence occurred during LGBTQ Pride Month in June, with TV networks covering the topic for 29 minutes. Most of this coverage focused on two demonstrations for Black trans lives that took place on June 14: the Brooklyn Liberation in New York City and the All Black Lives Matter march in Los Angeles.
- TV news coverage of anti-trans violence included transgender guests more often than not; 15 of the 23 segments featured a trans or gender nonconforming guest. Every broadcast news segment on the topic featured a trans guest. As for the cable networks, over half of MSNBC’s segments included a trans guest while only one of CNN’s four segments did.
- Only nine of the 23 segments -- five from MSNBC, two from CNN, and one each from ABC and CBS -- actually said the name of a trans person who was killed in 2020.
- None of the networks’ segments misgendered or deadnamed any of the victims. (Misgendering is when someone is referred to as a different gender than the one that person identifies with, and deadnaming is when someone calls a trans person by “the name they used before they transitioned'' rather than the name they currently go by. Both are forms of harassment that go against journalistic best practices.)
- The year’s longest segment on the topic came from MSNBC’s Velshi and was eight minutes. During the segment, African American Policy Forum Executive Director Kimberlé Crenshaw and TransLash Media founder Imara Jones discussed the epidemic of anti-trans violence and the Trump administration's work to remove nondiscrimination protections for trans people in health care.
- From 2019 to 2020, CNN’s coverage of anti-trans violence drastically decreased. A Media Matters study of evening TV news coverage occurring between 5 p.m. and midnight found that CNN covered the topic for 27 minutes in 2019, including a town hall specifically focused on LGBTQ issues. In 2020, CNN only covered it for five minutes during its daytime and evening news programming.
- After Juno and Umbrella Academy actor Elliot Page came out as a trans and nonbinary person, broadcast networks ABC, CBS, and NBC noted high rates of anti-trans violence when covering his announcement. In a post on Twitter, Page acknowledged that at least 40 trans people had been murdered in 2020 at the time.
- Fox News’ lone segment on anti-trans violence was a five-minute monologue in which Tucker Carlson lied that there is not an epidemic of violence against trans people and falsely claimed the trans community was “relatively affluent” compared to cisgender Americans. In reality, trans people are more likely to experience homelessness and poverty, and anti-trans hate crimes are at the highest level on record.
Violence facing the trans and gender nonconforming community requires robust TV news coverage
In 2020, trans Americans faced alarming rates of violence -- in addition to lethal attacks, they were attacked by mobs, stabbed, beaten and robbed, and relentlessly accosted in public. Trans people are also disproportionately vulnerable to violence due to discriminatory social factors, such as heightened barriers to accessing health care, stable housing, and jobs. But TV news networks largely failed to adequately cover this violence and its impacts on the trans community in 2020.
However, this dearth of coverage is not due to a lack of reporting from other media outlets: Throughout the year, LGBTQ media outlets and verticals, public broadcasting, and local and national media have produced extensive coverage on the subject.
These outlets build off of the pioneering work of the late Monica Roberts, who died at her home in October. Roberts led the charge to correctly identify and report on the deaths of trans people, as local police departments and media repeatedly fail to identify victims by their correct name and gender. A Media Matters analysis found that media outlets and police reports misidentified every one of the seven trans women who were killed in a spike in violence between June 9 and July 28, 2020. We also identified 139 news articles that deadnamed or misgendered nearly two out of every three victims of anti-trans violence occurring between January 1 and November 19, 2020. In 2020, Media Matters partnered with the Trans Journalists Association and the Human Rights Campaign in publishing a FAQ for reporters covering anti-trans violence.
Insufficient reporting on anti-trans violence is one component of TV news’ continued failure to report on the issues facing the trans community. This reporting is crucial given that only 30% of Americans know someone who is trans, as there is a dangerous void of accurate trans representation in the news media. Right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups often seize on this lack of reporting to spread vile misinformation about the trans community.
It is vital for broadcast and cable networks to inform their viewers with accurate coverage about the all-time high rates of anti-trans violence -- or else they will cede the narrative around trans issues to right-wing media’s bigotry and misinformation.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for any of the terms or any variations of the terms “transgender,” “trans,” “transphobe,” “transphobia,” “gender identity,” “gender nonconforming,” or “gender fluid” within close proximity of any of the terms “violence,” “crime,” “hate,” “attack,” “homicide,” “shoot,” “shot,” “murder,” “death,” “die,” “dead,” “kill,” “stab,” “strangle,” “beat,” or “burn” from January 1 through December 31, 2020, between 6 a.m. and midnight daily.
We also searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for the national news programs on corporate broadcast TV networks ABC, CBS, and NBC. We included ABC, CBS, and NBC’s 30-minute nightly news shows (weekday and weekend editions): ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News. We also included each network’s two-hour morning news show (weekday and weekend editions): ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ This Morning, and NBC’s Today (we did include the third hour of Today, which began in the wake of NBC canceling Megyn Kelly Today). We included the networks’ Sunday morning political talk shows: ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press. We did not include Fox Broadcasting Co. because it only airs a Sunday morning political talk show, Fox News Sunday, and no other morning or evening national news programming.
We also searched for the names of the transgender and gender-nonconforming people who were killed in 2020: Dustin Parker, Neulisa Luciano Ruiz, Yampi Méndez Arocho, Scott/Scottlynn Devore, Monika Diamond, Lexi, Johanna Metzger, Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos, Layla Pelaez Sánchez, Penélope Díaz Ramírez, Nina Pop, Helle Jae O’Regan, Tony McDade, Dominique “Rem'mie” Fells, Riah Milton, Jayne Thompson, Selena Reyes-Hernandez, Brian “Egypt” Powers, Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Bree Black, Summer Taylor, Marilyn Cazares, Dior H Ova, Queasha D Hardy, Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears, Lea Rayshon Daye, Kee Sam, Aerrion Burnett, Mia Green, Michelle Michellyn Ramos Vargas, Felycya Harris, Brooklyn Deshuna, Sara Blackwood, Angel Unique, Skylar Heath, Yunieski Carey Herrera, Asia Jynae Foster, Chae’Meshia Simms, Kimberly Fial, Jaheim Pugh Jaheim Barbie, Courtney “Eshay” Key, and Alexandria Winchester.
Early police reports and local coverage often referred to victims by their deadnames. We also searched for the deadnames of the 2020 victims but have not listed those names here as deadnaming is a form of harassment that goes against journalistic standards.
Additionally, we conducted similar term and name searches in the Nexis database; however, this double-check was limited as transcripts for Fox News and MSNBC’s daytime coverage are not available in Nexis. We searched for the above terms between 6 a.m. and midnight on CNN, between 5 p.m. to midnight on Fox News and MSNBC, and on the aforementioned shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC.
We included segments about anti-trans violence, which we defined as instances where anti-trans violence was the stated topic of discussion or where there was significant discussion of anti-trans violence. We defined “significant discussion” as any back-and-forth exchange between two or more people; we did not include passing mentions in the analysis. We also excluded teasers, which we defined as short mentions from the host of segments coming up later in the broadcast.