Update (6/2/21): Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 1028, which included the ban on trans women students competing in women's and girls sports, into law on June 1 -- the first day of LGBTQ Pride Month. Following the signing, Media Matters searched for articles about the legislation published between May 21 (the day after our original study period) and June 2; there were 16 such articles, all published after the law's signing. Seven of those articles, or 44%, included a quote from a trans person -- an increase from the 26% of articles that did so in the two months preceding the signing. Additionally, 13 of those articles, or 81%, misgendered trans women without pushback, a higher rate than the 42% of articles that did so before June 1.
In total, Media Matters reviewed 100 print articles on SB 1028 printed between April 1 and 3 p.m. EST June 2. Of those, 29 quoted a trans person, 48 misgendered trans women, and 76 treated the rights of trans people as debatable and juxtaposed them with the perspectives of people advocating for discriminatory laws. Only half of the 100 articles included perspectives that acknowledged SB 1028 as discriminatory.
On April 28, the Florida legislature passed Senate Bill 1028, a wide-reaching charter school bill that included a last-minute addition: an amendment banning trans women athletes from competing on women's and girls’ teams. Meanwhile, Florida’s print media largely failed to talk to any trans people in their lackluster coverage or to acknowledge that the bill is discriminatory. They also allowed trans women to be misgendered without pushback.
Florida is one of 33 states where bills banning trans student athletes from competing have either passed or been proposed this year so far. And national media outlets also have a problem with talking to trans people in their coverage of anti-trans efforts. The national conversation on these bills has largely been driven by Fox News, which has aired 72 discussions of trans athletes in just the first three months of 2021; since January 2019, Fox only mentioned nine actual athletes, none of whom were dominant in their sport. Most mainstream TV news networks also failed to host trans guests in coverage of an Arkansas law banning gender-affirming health care for trans people under 18.
Media Matters reviewed Florida's local print media coverage between April 1 and May 20 and found 84 news articles with more than one sentence mentioning the new bill (many of these were reprints from other local newspapers with the same owners). Only 22 of these articles, including reprints, quoted a trans person in coverage of the state’s new anti-trans law. Thirty-five articles, (42%) allowed conservatives to misgender trans people without correction or pushback, and 37 (44%) recognized the policy as discriminatory. Most articles (73%) also treated trans rights as an issue up for debate in which both sides have equally legitimate arguments even though trans people’s rights are at risk. This framing put both sides up against each other with little commentary, giving legitimacy to discriminatory and false arguments from the right.
Based on this analysis, many of Florida’s newspapers consistently published coverage of the bill that ignored the voices of the people most impacted or treated legalized discrimination as an issue to be debated. While only 26% of local articles about SB 1028 included a statement from a trans person, all of them came from only four Florida papers: the Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times, South Florida Sun Sentinel, and Orlando Sentinel. Of these four, the Herald and the Times share a newsroom in Tallahassee and often publish versions of the same pieces, while the others are both Tribune Publishing papers, and the Sun Sentinel often reprints articles originally credited to its sister publication in Orlando.
Most other pieces we reviewed came from papers owned by Gannett, the publishers of USA Today. Gannett-owned papers put out 37 articles across a portion of the company’s 27 Florida papers in the time frame analyzed. Many of these were reprints of pieces from Gannett’s Florida bureau, the Tallahassee Democrat, or the Lakeland Ledger. None of these articles included even one quote from a trans person.
Based on guidelines from the LGBTQ rights organization GLAAD, this represents a failure on the part of Gannett: Trans people are experts on their own lives, and citing them in articles about legislation that impacts them directly is a fundamental practice of good reporting. However, Gannett’s Florida papers are hardly the first local outlets to neglect to include trans perspectives in articles on this topic. A similar Media Matters analysis of coverage of recent anti-trans laws in Arkansas found print media in that state only talked to a transgender person in a little over one-third of 32 total articles about the issue.
Neglecting to talk to members of the LGBTQ community about policies that directly impact their lives has been a problem with Florida's local media in the past. In December 2017, when West Palm Beach passed a ban on anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy, local broadcast stations talked to more people who supported conversion therapy than those who opposed or were hurt by it, including two stations which gave a platform to “a prominent advocate of the practice without noting her anti-LGBTQ advocacy.”
In addition to an overall absence of trans perspectives, Media Matters’ review of Florida print coverage about SB 1028 found 42% of articles misgendered or allowed sources to misgender transgender students without pushback or correction. Misgendering, or referring to someone as a different gender than the one they identify with, is a form of harassment that unduly stigmatizes trans people and also goes against journalistic standards.
In one case, both the Orlando Sentinel and the Sun Sentinel included a quote from former President Donald Trump without correction of his characterization of trans people:
Former President Donald Trump signaled his support at his Feb. 28 speech at CPAC, or the Conservative Political Action Conference, which was held in Orlando this year.
“It’s just crazy what’s happening,” he told the audience, saying women and girls were being “forced to compete against biological males” and that if things didn’t change “women’s sports as we know it will die.”
Sometimes, Florida journalists misgendered trans girls directly, such as in Gannett’s Treasure Coast Newspapers: “The Florida House Wednesday agreed to ban transgender girls – biological boys – from girls sports and women's collegiate sports in an effort Republican lawmakers say is a way to preserve the integrity of female sports."
Other articles also misgendered trans women as “biological boys” or “biological males,” from both quoted anti-trans sources and the authors of the article themselves. This mirrors the language right-wing media figures often use to demean trans girls and women. Only two Florida papers consistently did not misgender trans people in their coverage of the new law: the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald.
Over two-thirds of the articles weighed anti-trans and pro-trans perspectives equally, essentially framing the topic of equal rights for trans people as a subject for debate. This bill actively discriminates specifically against trans athletes in all levels of schooling, restricting them from participating in school sports according to their gender. Yet 61 published articles on this bill -- 73% -- treated the views of people being targeted by the bill and those of people fearmongering and spreading misinformation in support of the bill as equally valid, as in one Orlando Sentinel article referencing the bill: “Supporters said transgender female athletes could have a physical advantage; opponents said the bill targets youths already at risk for suicide, ostracism and bullying.”
Many of the problems with local coverage of SB 1028 stem from the limited quantity of reporting -- the majority of Florida papers that printed anything on this topic used reporting shared with another paper. Gannett outlets reprinted articles from the same state politics reporters in Tallahassee. The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times both published the same pieces from their shared Tallahassee Bureau. Coverage of the trans sports ban in Florida largely relied on a small group of journalists whose work was spread throughout the state, especially in the case of Gannett, and the failure to talk to trans people colored coverage in a dozen outlets.
Both national and local media cannot continue to exclude trans people from stories that directly impact their lives.
Media Matters searched print articles in the Factiva database from local newspapers in Florida for any of the terms “trans," “transgender,” “transphobe,” “transphobic,” “transphobia,” “gender identity,” “gender nonconforming," “gender fluid," “nonbinary,” “transsexual,” “biological boy," “biological male,” “biological man," or “biological men" from April 1 through 3 p.m. EST on June 2.
We included the following newspapers: Bradenton Herald, Broward Daily Business Review, Charlotte Sun, Citrus County Chronicle, Daily Commercial, Englewood Sun, Florida Newswire, The Florida Times-Union, Florida Today, Florida Trend, The Gainesville Sun, Indian River Press Journal, Jacksonville Business Journal, Jackson County Floridan, Key West Citizen, Lake City Reporter, The Ledger, Miami Daily Business Review, Miami Herald, Naples Daily News, The News-Press, North Port Sun, Northwest Florida Daily News, El Nuevo Herald, Ocala StarBanner, Orlando Business Journal, Orlando Sentinel, Palatka Daily News, Palm Beach Daily Business Review, Palm Beach Daily News, The Palm Beach Post, The Panama City News-Herald, Pensacola News Journal, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Sarasota Observer, South Florida Business Journal, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, South Florida Times, The St. Augustine Record, Tallahassee Democrat, Tampa Bay Business Journal, Tampa Bay Times, and Treasure Coast Newspapers.
We then coded articles for whether they included perspective from any trans person, misgendered any trans person, acknowledged that these laws violate human and civil rights, framed anti-trans talking points as equal to trans perspectives, referenced real trans athletes, uncritically repeated conservative framing of trans medical care as “experimental” or “child abuse,” or noted that the bills are a direct response to President Joe Biden’s pro-LGBTQ policies.