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Diversity & Discrimination

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  • Only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ opponents of the Trump-Pence administration's plan to define away trans identities

    While MSNBC aired segments featuring six LGBTQ people, Fox News hosted anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins and two anti-trans gay women

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” which would be “the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people,” according to an October 21 New York Times report. When TV news reported on the proposal, only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ guests to condemn it, while Fox hosted primarily anti-trans voices, including two gay women and major anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins.

    The Times reported that the definition would be established under Title IX, which bars “gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” Title IX is enforced in part by the “Big Four” federal agencies -- the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor -- most of which currently employ anti-LGBTQ group alumni who would potentially implement the policy. According to the Williams Institute, there are roughly 1.4 million American adults who identify as transgender, all of whom would be impacted by the proposed change. CNN reported that “if adopted, such a definition could exclude transgender people from existing federal civil rights protections in education, employment and access to health care.” The move is part of a greater trend of the Trump-Pence administration going after transgender people, and transgender advocates and their allies have sounded the alarm about the proposal and are fighting back.

    How TV news covered the proposal

    Following the Times’ reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, broadcast and cable TV news spent a moderate amount of time covering the issue. MSNBC turned to transgender and queer guests to discuss the impacts of the proposal, while Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including Perkins. Though generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s segments relied entirely on CNN hosts, commentators, and reporters, none of whom openly identify as LGBTQ.

    In discussing the proposal, MSNBC hosted six LGBTQ people, four of whom identify as trans, who were able to explain the personal impact the Trump administration’s proposal would have on the trans community.

    On October 23, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson hosted Laverne Cox, a transgender actress and activist, who outlined the Trump-Pence administration’s history of anti-trans policies, as well as those proposed around the country in state legislatures. Cox said that state legislatures “are continually trying to introduce legislation banning transgender people from public life” but noted that “we have fought those battles, and we have won.” She explained that “over and over again the courts have held that transgender people are covered by Title IX and Title VII.” Cox said, “They want to make us afraid, but we need not be afraid.”

    MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson aired an October 22 segment featuring National Center for Transgender Equality's (NCTE) Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who was the first out transgender person to be appointed to a White House job. Freedman-Gurspan called the proposal “an abomination” and highlighted that the new definition does not align with medical consensus or the lived experiences of trans people. She also noted the many anti-trans actions and rhetoric of the Trump-Pence administration and highlighted activism by the trans community and their allies who are ready to fight the proposal. Freedman-Gurspan ended the segment by saying, “We won’t be erased. We are standing up. … We are going to get through this.”

    During other segments, MSNBC also hosted Mara Keisling, a trans woman and president of NCTE; Hannah Simpson, a trans woman and activist; Masha Gessen, an LGBTQ journalist; and Sarah Kate Ellis, a lesbian and president of GLAAD. Additionally, Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian, did a monologue on her October 22 show about the proposal in which she contextualized the history of Republican administrations rolling back LGBTQ rights.

    While MSNBC turned to LGBTQ people who were either transgender or trans allies for their insights on the potential impact of the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including two gay women and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council’s (FRC) President Tony Perkins.

    In Fox News’ first substantial segment about the proposal, Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream aired a debate between liberal radio host Ethan Bearman and FRC’s Perkins, who was also appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May. During the segment, Perkins praised the proposal and resorted to fearmongering when presented with historical facts about gender identity. Perkins also pushed the the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies pose a threat to the safety of women and girls. From the segment:

    What we’re doing by this policy that was put in place without an act of Congress -- this was the Obama administration -- we’re putting people at risk. We're actually denying people equal protection under the law, because under this, we would force women that are going to battered shelters for abused women, we would force them under government policy to be housed with men, biological men. This makes no sense.

    On October 23, Tucker Carlson, who has an anti-transgender track record himself, hosted Tammy Bruce, an anti-trans lesbian and president of the conservative group Independent Women’s Voice. In the past, Bruce has criticized trans-inclusive restrooms and compared being transgender to “a child” thinking they are “a cocker spaniel. She has also defended Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who was represented by extreme anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom at the Supreme Court. During the segment, Carlson claimed that the government recognizing the trans community would hurt women, and Bruce leveraged her identity as a lesbian to dismiss the impact of the proposal on trans people.

    Additionally, Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted Camille Paglia, also an LGBTQ-identified person who is critical of trans identities. During the segment, Paglia pushed anti-trans narratives about biology and said that trans-inclusive policies are “unfair” in areas like athletics. She also described herself as transgender while criticizing the trans community. Paglia has made similar comments in the past, saying, "Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave." In other reporting, it appears that she identifies as gay and uses female pronouns.

    CNN had at least eight separate significant discussions, news reads, or reports covering the proposal but failed to host a single LGBTQ person in its reporting. Though the network’s coverage was generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s shows only used staff commentators and reporters to discuss it.

    Broadcast TV news outlets ABC and CBS barely covered the story at all, only airing news reads with no comprehensive segments or reporting, and both networks failed to feature any LGBTQ voices. NBC, however, aired a package on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that included a clip from NCTE’s Freedman-Gurspan’s appearance on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson. It also aired a report on Today.

    Additionally, PBS aired a segment featuring LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal’s Sharon McGowan and was the only TV outlet so far to contextualize the anti-LGBTQ track record of Roger Severino, head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, the department spearheading the proposal.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for cable TV coverage appearing between October 21 and 23 on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- as well as transcripts of broadcast TV coverage on ABC, NBC, and CBS -- for mentions of the words “transgender” or “health and human services” as well as mentions of the words or variations of the words “trans,” “sex,” or “gender” occurring within 10 words of the words or variations of the words “memo,” “policy,” “definition” or “Trump.” Additionally, Media Matters conducted searches on Snapstream for the same time frame for the same terms. “Significant discussion” is defined as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing the proposal with one another.

  • #WontBeErased: Transgender activists and allies rally against Trump administration's attempt to erase trans people

    Protesters explain why media must include trans voices in their coverage

    Blog ››› ››› MILES LE & AUDREY BOWLER

    Transgender activists and their allies gathered in front of the White House on Monday to protest the Trump administration's latest attack on transgender rights.

    The New York Times recently uncovered a memo drafted by the Department of Health and Human Services that would severely constrain the legal definition of sex and gender. The proposal suggested key government agencies define gender as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” meaning that gender would be defined as determined by genitalia at birth or through genetic testing.

    This definition, if implemented, would have enormous repercussions for transgender and gender nonconforming people in the United States. It would basically eliminate federal recognition for those 1.4 million people who identify as a gender other than the one listed on their birth certificate.

    Since the news broke, the trans community and their allies have rallied to protest the administration's continued attempts to roll back civil rights protections for LGBTQ, and particularly transgender, Americans.

    Here's what activists had to say about protecting trans rights and the media's role in covering the transgender community, including the need for media to include trans voices in their coverage of LGBTQ issues and talk about the very real ways this will hurt people:

  • Massachusetts media lift up voices of those the state's anti-trans ballot referendum would impact most

    Transgender Bay Staters have shared their thoughts about Question 3, which could dismantle the state's trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Massachusetts print and TV outlets lifted up the voices of transgender folks and their loved ones, who explained how dismantling the state’s trans-inclusive public accomodations nondiscrimination law would personally affect them and their community. Media often fail to feature the people who would be most impacted by the policies they cover.

    On November 6, Massachusetts residents will vote on Question 3, a ballot referendum to determine the fate of the state’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law. In 2016, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law that expanded the state’s existing nondiscrimination protections for transgender people to include public accommodations such as bathrooms and locker rooms. The state’s existing law had already protected transgender residents from discrimination in housing and the workplace. Earlier this year, Anchorage residents defeated a similar anti-transgender referendum.

    A recent poll by University of Massachusetts Lowell and The Boston Globe estimated that 74 percent of likely voters want to uphold the state’s current law but also found that voters have widespread confusion around the wording of ballot Question 3. Even though the referendum was created to dismantle trans rights protections, a “yes vote” actually supports the existing protections and a “no vote” repeals them. According to CBS Boston, researchers found that “many voters had trouble understanding the ballot question and what their vote would mean.” Anti-LGBTQ opponents in favor of a “no” vote have relied on the thoroughly debunked "bathroom predator" myth, baselessly fearmongering that allowing transgender people access to public accommodations that align with their gender identity poses a threat to safety and privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms, especially that of women and girls.

    Massachusetts media and Teen Vogue have lifted up the voices of the people who would be most affected by the repeal of trans-inclusive protections

    Media often fail to include members of impacted communities when talking about issues that are important to them. A Media Matters report of coverage of trans issues on Fox News found that the network didn’t host a single openly transgender guest over nine months. Additionally, networks often exclude the Muslim and Hispanic communities in related coverage, and news coverage discussing the GOP’s health care rollback regularly ignored people of color and the LGBTQ community. As Massachusetts residents consider their vote next month, local outlets are featuring the stories of transgender Bay Staters and their families to explain why the existing law is important to their community.

    Cape Cod newspaper The Sandwich Enterprise featured an October 10 op-ed by Eric Nelson, a Massachusetts resident and father of a transgender son, urging voters to support the current protections by voting “yes on Question 3.” Nelson acknowledged that at first he had trouble understanding his son’s gender identity but noted that he “saw the remarkable change in his self-confidence and happiness after he finally shared” his identity with his family and friends. He also pointed to disparities faced by transgender people, including a 41 percent attempted suicide rate “compared to 1.6 percent of the general population,” and highlighted how trans students often suffer “harassment from fellow students, teachers, medical personnel, strangers in public areas, even parents and other family members.” In addition, Nelson shined a light on the scourge of anti-transgender violence and homicides, writing, “In 2017, there were 28 documented victims in the US.” Media Matters found that major national cable and TV news outlets generally ignore stories about that violence. From the op-ed:

    I want both of my children to be safe from all threats, and would do anything — anything — to protect them. But there are too many legitimate threats out there for me to be concerned about false ones like the claim that male predators will masquerade as transgender women to access women’s bathrooms.

    Anti-discrimination laws that include gender identity have been around for years in 19 states and 200 municipalities, and there is no evidence to support this claim.

    No, what I fear most are those who would harm or harass my son, or deny him basic rights like using a public restroom, simply because he’s transgender. If anything, he’s the one at risk.

    Mariel Addis, a transgender Bay Stater, wrote an October 10 op-ed for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, which stressed that many people who fear or oppose transgender rights likely do not even know a transgender person. She wrote that while some opponents “believe that the negative stories put forth by the opponents of Ballot Question 3 are true -- in reality, they don’t hold water.” Addis shared that she underwent her gender transition “alone, without the support of much of my family,” calling it “the best thing I have ever done for myself.” She continued, “I don’t regard my transition as a choice, but as a necessity,” also writing that it was “the most difficult challenge I have ever encountered, but I have been rewarded for taking it on.” After sharing her story, she urged readers to protect her rights because transgender “people deserve your respect and the same rights to live as every other citizen in the Commonwealth."

    The Daily Hampshire Gazette published a separate piece featuring others who would be disproportionately affected by Question 3. “Western Massachusetts Parents of Transgender Adults” wrote a September 26 op-ed that said, “We care about the safety of our children, and we worry about the dangers when society legalizes discrimination.” The group pointed to a study which revealed “that 65% of transgender people in Massachusetts faced discrimination in a public place in the prior year.” The op-ed went on to note that “this is not just an issue for us, the parents. We believe that our community — all of you — care. In a world of growing hate and fear, voting to uphold these vital protections for all is something you can do.”

    Sabrina Renaud, a caregiver for a transgender child, wrote an October 9 letter to the editor to local outlet the Reading Patch, saying that the state’s current law “makes for a safer and more welcoming community for everyone.” She said that a repeal of trans-inclusive protections would be “disheartening and terrifying.” She continued: “All people, but children especially, need to feel validated and supported in order to thrive and it worries me to think of the message that will be sent if the current law is not upheld when voters go to the ballot this November.”

    WGBH News, Boston’s NPR station, aired a debate on its show Greater Boston on September 27 between “Yes on 3” representative Mimi Lemay, the mother of a transgender child, and Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) president Andrew Beckwith of the “No on 3” campaign. Lemay discussed the impact the upcoming vote will have on her family and pushed back against Beckwith’s claims that the current law risks the safety and privacy of women and girls. Beckwith repeatedly pushed the “bathroom predator” myth, which Lemay debunked by citing the Williams Institute’s recent study which found “no uptick at all” in cases of sexual misconduct due to Massachusetts’ law. She also highlighted that a majority of transgender residents in the state have reported harassment in public accommodations. From the September 27 edition of WBGH News’ Greater Boston:

    Transgender people, like my son Jacob, they live in this state. They have a right to go about and enjoy everything this state has to offer -- restaurants, bookstores, cafes, hospitals -- without fear of being harassed. The harm that is done to them on a daily basis is real. What you [Beckwith] are creating, this fear, is not real, and as a mother, this concerns me.

    In addition to outlets in Massachusetts lifting up the voices of transgender folks and their loved ones, Teen Vogue published an October 12 op-ed by Nicole Talbot, a transgender Massachusetts teen, continuing in its trend of high-quality political coverage. Talbot wrote that though she is not old enough to vote, she is sharing her story to encourage voters to protect her rights and uphold the state’s law. She also noted that “a small group of opponents forced the issue to a ballot referendum” by depicting transgender people as “criminals in restrooms” and “airing scary, misleading ads that claim protecting people like me harms the safety of others.” From the op-ed:

    This law has been in place for two years and there has been no increase in incidents that opponents claim will happen. A crime is still a crime and harassment in restrooms remains illegal. In fact, police associations and women's organizations publicly support this law. It is making us all more safe, not less.

    I encourage Massachusetts voters to get the facts. Transgender people are people just trying to live their lives. When voters see Question 3 through this lens, the answer is simple: Yes to uphold the current law. Yes to ensure transgender people have the same protections as everyone else. Yes to set the example of equality for the rest of the nation.

    Anti-LGBTQ groups have been fighting the inclusive law since it was introduced

    Beckwith’s anti-LGBTQ state organization, Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), is associated with several extreme anti-LGBTQ groups at the national level: It is a state ally of the Family Policy Alliance, and it is also partnered with Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and Alliance Defending Freedom.

    MFI has opposed the existing trans-inclusive law since it was first introduced in 2016. Within weeks of the bill becoming law, the group launched its “Keep Massachusetts Safe” campaign to garner signatures for the ballot referendum that seeks to repeal the law.