From the time it happened through the day that followed President Donald Trump’s rollback of federal trans-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, Fox News failed to include transgender guests who could provide insights about the policy. Of the major cable news networks (MSNBC, Fox, and CNN), MSNBC led the count by hosting four transgender guests, while CNN hosted only one.
On February 22, the Trump administration revoked the federal protections for trans students implemented by President Barack Obama, which outlined the right of trans students to use the public facilities that match their gender identity. Conservative commentators reacted by pushing the long-debunked myth that sexual predators exploit these types of nondiscrimination protections to sneak into women’s facilities by pretending to be transgender.
Media Matters analyzed the guests invited on cable news networks to discuss the rollback of the federal trans-inclusive nondiscrimination guidelines from 8 p.m. February 22 until midnight on February 23. We found that Fox News failed to bring on a single transgender guest, perpetuating the network’s long history of trans exclusion. In comparison, MSNBC set the standard by including four transgender guests: Cub Scout Joe Maldonado, actress and activist Laverne Cox, transgender rights advocate Mara Keisling, and Gavin Grimm, whose case against his school over restroom access will go before the Supreme Court. CNN hosted only one trans person, teenager Juliet Evancho, who appeared during the February 23 edition of CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, but on February 22, New Day featured Katharine Prescott, the mother of a trans student who committed suicide. Prescott’s subsequent activism was influential in the implementation of protections during the Obama administration. It is worth noting that CNN also hosted Grimm on the February 24 edition of New Day, but the morning shows of February 24 fell outside of the time frame analyzed by Media Matters.
While CNN’s and MSNBC’s inclusion of trans voices provided a welcome respite from a trend of underrepresentation, news networks must still work for progress in terms of improving trans visibility. That’s because stories of violence against the transgender community are often ignored, and when news shows do discuss issues that directly affect transgender people, they often fail to include any trans people as guests.
Because Trump is an avid TV consumer, cable news shows have an increased in influence as platforms for policy discussion, giving the guests included a unique opportunity to send impactful messages. This platform could also be used to boost the voices of those usually underrepresented in the media. And transgender people -- who are often mocked, misgendered, and negatively portrayed on TV news -- deserve a space to directly address misperceptions audiences might have about their lives. Their lived experiences not only add value to segments about legislation that directly affects their lives, it also can enrich the political discussion more broadly. Networks owe it to the transgender community to talk to them, instead of just about them.
Jared Holt contributed research to this report.