During LGBTQ Pride Month in June, broadcast and cable TV news networks' on-air coverage notably covered anti-trans violence for 29 minutes -- most of which was on MSNBC -- but then largely failed to cover the issue during July and August. TV news has historically been inadequate in its coverage of the issue.
Homicide rates have surged during the coronavirus pandemic, including a spike in murders of trans people, who have been disproportionately impacted as they face heightened barriers to health care and economic opportunity.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 26 trans or gender nonconforming people have been killed in the U.S. so far in 2020, which is the highest number HRC has recorded at this point in the year since it began tracking in 2013. These are their names:
Dustin Parker, Neulisa Luciano Ruiz, Yampi Méndez Arocho, Monika Diamond, Lexi “Ebony” Sutton, Johanna Metzger, Penélope Díaz Ramírez, Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos, Layla Pelaez Sánchez, Nina Pop, Helle Jae O’Regan, Tony McDade, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton, Jayne Thompson, Selena Reyes-Hernandez, Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Bree “Nuk” Black, Marilyn “Monroe” Cazares, Dior H Ova, Queasha D Hardy, Summer Taylor, Brian “Egypt” Powers, and Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears.
TV news reported on anti-trans violence for 29 minutes in June, then largely failed to cover it for the rest of the summer
Media Matters reviewed evening, morning, and Sunday TV news shows on broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, as well as all programming between 6 a.m. and midnight on cable channels CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from June 1 through August 31.
We found that broadcast and cable TV news reported on anti-trans violence for a combined 29 minutes in June, which is LGBTQ Pride Month, but then -- outside of a single report from ABC that ran just over 1 minute -- outlets failed to report on the topic in July or August. This drop in coverage is part of a pattern of inadequate reporting on issues facing the trans community.
Among cable news outlets, MSNBC devoted the most coverage to anti-trans violence at more than 22 minutes of reporting across six segments in June, while CNN covered it for nearly five minutes across three segments. Fox News failed to cover anti-trans violence a single time during this period.
Broadcast news networks ABC and NBC each reported on the topic in a single segment in June for just over one minute apiece, while CBS and PBS did not cover it at all. In years past, coverage of it has been so low that seven minutes on other networks outside of MSNBC is considered a significant amount of coverage.
Eight of the 11 segments, accounting for almost 17 minutes of coverage in June, 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. The two events coincided with Black Lives Matter protests across the globe and drew an estimated 45,000 people in total.
In one MSNBC segment on the Brooklyn Liberation march, Black trans activist Raquel Willis remarked on some of the needed solutions to ending the epidemic of anti-trans violence:
Though TV news aired a notable amount of discussion around anti-trans violence in June, particularly on MSNBC, every cable and broadcast network except ABC failed to produce a single report on anti-trans violence in July and August.
The lone segment from ABC was on the August 19 edition of World News Tonight with David Muir, in a report on three trans women who were robbed and attacked in Los Angeles. Bystanders yelled transphobic slurs at the women and recorded the attack, even as one victim was hit in the head with a bottle. One of the women, Eden Estrada, told ABC that “because we’re trans, nobody cared.”
Cable networks did report on Summer Taylor, a nonbinary person killed when a car plowed through protesters at a Black Lives Matter protest in Seattle. However, outlets did not note Taylor’s gender identity or report on their death as an incident of anti-trans violence, so this coverage was excluded from the data set.
CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC each reported on Taylor’s death on July 5. Fox News’ report soley referred to Taylor by their name, without pronouns, while CNN and MSNBC both misgendered Taylor in their coverage. Notably, local media in Seattle had identified Taylor as nonbinary by the time each network ran their reports, and CNN even highlighted a tweet from Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) that referred to Taylor by their correct pronouns.
Historically, TV news has failed to adequately cover anti-trans violence. In 2019, corporate evening broadcast and cable TV news only covered the topic for 33 minutes. Moreover, news coverage of violence in states where it occurs regularly misgenders and deadnames victims, which is in part due to media parroting police reports that misidentify trans people.
Trans people are subjected to violence all year-round, and coverage of this epidemic must continue beyond Pride Month
In addition to lethal violence, trans people in the U.S. have long faced alarming instances of targeted harassment and abuse. Trans people -- particularly those who are Black -- already face high risks of suicide and violence, and the FBI has reported that hate crimes against the community are surging.
In the past few months, the victims of these incidents have included a trans man who was pulled from a river after being assaulted and robbed in Oregon; a trans woman who was hospitalized with “significant injuries” after being struck in the face while leaving work in Virginia; a Black trans woman in Chicago who was repeatedly stabbed “so badly it caused some of her intestines to spill out”; and a trans woman in Philadelphia who was brutally attacked by a mob in her own home.
Responding to the spike in murders over the summer, HRC’s Tori Cooper stated, “This is the deadliest period we have on record. While we are still awaiting facts on the ground, it is clear that members of our beloved community are being killed because of who they are. … Racism, toxic masculinity, misogyny and transphobia are destroying lives and taking away our loved ones.” The rates of anti-trans attacks in the U.S. have become so grave that in 2019, the American Medical Association called it an “epidemic of violence against the transgender community.”
The disparity in summertime TV news coverage of anti-trans violence demonstrates that networks are both aware of this epidemic and have the capacity to report on it but largely chose not to outside of Pride Month. In the absence of such reporting, right-wing media sources dominate coverage of trans issues and spread vile misinformation about the community, including falsely claiming that trans people do not actually face rampant rates of violence.
At a time when conservative activists are also using anti-trans messaging as a wedge issue in the 2020 presidential race on social media platforms, it is crucial that TV news networks produce intentional and respectful coverage about the trans community.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream database for cable and broadcast network coverage from June 1 through August 31, 2020, on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC for mentions of any variations of the words “transgender,” “trans,” “transsexual,” “transphobe,” “transphobia,” “gender identity,” “gender nonconforming,” or “gender fluid” occurring within close proximity of the terms “violence,” “crime,” “hate,” “attack,” “homicide,” “shoot,” “shot,” “murder,” “death,” “die,” “dead,” “kill,” “stab,” “strangle,” “beat,” or “burn.”
We included all original programming on cable networks CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC that occurred between 6 a.m. and midnight each day. We included the following broadcast coverage from ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS’ 30-minute nightly news shows: ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, NBC’s Nightly News, and PBS’ NewsHour. We also included ABC, CBS, and NBC’s two-hour morning shows: ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s This Morning, and NBC’s Today. We did not include the third hour of Today. Additionally, we reviewed those shows’ weekend counterparts: ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ This Morning Saturday and CBS News Sunday Morning, and NBC’s Today and Sunday Today with Willie Geist. We also reviewed the networks’ Sunday morning political shows: ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press.
We also searched for the names of the transgender and gender-nonconforming people who were killed during these months: Dominique “Rem'mie” Fells, Riah Milton, Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Bree “Nuk” Black, Summer Taylor, Marilyn “Monroe” Cazares, Dior H Ova (also known as Tiffany Harris), Queasha D Hardy, and Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears.
Early police reports and local coverage often referred to victims by their deadnames. We also searched for the victims' deadnames but have not listed those names here as deadnaming is a form of harassment.
Additionally, as a double-check, Media Matters conducted similar searches in the Nexis database for the above terms and names; however, this search was limited as transcripts for Fox News’ and MSNBC’s daytime coverage are not available in Nexis. We searched Nexis for the above terms on the above shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS; between 6 a.m. and midnight on CNN; and between 5 p.m. to midnight on Fox News and MSNBC.
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; passing mentions were not included in the analysis. We excluded teasers, which we defined as short mentions from the host of segments coming up later in the broadcast.