On December 1, actor Elliot Page, famous for his roles in Juno and The Umbrella Academy, came out as a transgender and nonbinary person who uses “he” and “they” pronouns, and he used his platform to highlight the epidemic of anti-trans violence. Broadcast TV news coverage of his announcement followed his example and reported on the violence, which is generally inadequately covered, particularly on national TV news.
In his post, Page wrote, “In 2020 alone it has been reported that at least 40 transgender people have been murdered, the majority of which were Black and Latinx trans women.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has reported that that number makes 2020 the deadliest year on record for trans people in the U.S. Trans people are disproportionately vulnerable to violence due to discriminatory societal factors, such as heightened barriers to accessing health care, stable housing, and jobs. The rates of anti-trans attacks in the U.S. have become so grave that in 2019, the American Medical Association called the situation an “epidemic of violence against the transgender community.”
Broadcast news followed Page’s lead, highlighting the violence and discrimination trans people regularly face
Following Page’s announcement, broadcast TV news outlets aired reports highlighting the discrimination and violence trans people experience.
In a December 1 report on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, reporter Kate Snow noted, “The number of trans and gender nonconforming people killed has increased dramatically over the past few years, with a record of more than 40 deaths this year, the majority people of color.”
The same segment featured trans actress Laverne Cox, who was recently targeted in an anti-trans attack, stating, “It’s not safe if you’re a trans person.” This was the only mention of the attack on national broadcast or cable news. Clara Taylor, the parent of a trans person killed earlier this year, said, “They need to know that they have somebody that's willing to fight for them. A lot of them are so scared.”
The next day, ABC’s Good Morning America aired a segment in which reporter Janai Norman similarly highlighted the epidemic of anti-trans violence. Norman said, “For those living their truth, coming out as trans can be dangerous.”
Also on December 1, a segment on CBS This Morning cited data on anti-trans violence and featured GLAAD’s Nick Adams, who noted that “while we see growing acceptance, we also see growing backlash particularly during the last four years of this administration."
These outlets used Page's former name, a practice known as deadnaming that can be stigmatizing to trans people. They should refrain from doing so in the future, as per guidance in the Trans Journalists Association style guide.
Broadcast and cable TV news have inadequately covered anti-trans violence for years
Page’s focus on anti-trans violence, and broadcast news’ subsequent coverage of it, helped highlight an issue that is critically underreported and inadequately covered in the news. Violence disproportionately affects trans people of color, particularly those who are denied access to employment and housing, and Page used his platform as a successful queer actor to shine a light on violence facing an oft-forgotten community.
A 2019 Media Matters study of cable and broadcast TV news aired between 5 p.m. and midnight found that evening TV news spent just over 33 minutes covering the year’s then-record levels of violence against trans people. Nearly half of this, or 15 minutes, occurred during CNN’s LGBTQ town hall featuring Democratic presidential candidates being interviewed about LGBTQ rights and policy. Outside of its town hall event, CNN’s evening programs spent a little over 12 minutes discussing the topic, Fox News dedicated less than one minute of evening programming to it, and MSNBC’s evening shows failed to cover it at all.
In 2020, Media Matters found that cable and broadcast news covered anti-trans violence for 29 minutes in June, which is Pride Month, and then largely failed to cover it in July and August. Additionally, a Media Matters review of news reporting on victims of anti-trans violence in 2020 found 139 news articles that deadnamed or misgendered 23 out of 37 victims.
Reports so often misidentify victims of anti-trans violence that Media Matters, Human Rights Campaign, and Trans Journalists Association released a FAQ for reporters covering anti-trans violence.