LGBT | Media Matters for America

LGBT

Tags ››› LGBT
  • Virginia TV news failed to explain why it was wrong for a fired teacher to repeatedly misgender a trans student

    Outlets framed coverage around concern for his job rather than the student’s well-being

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    Virginia TV news stations dedicated 90 segments to a story about an anti-trans high school teacher who was fired for repeatedly misgendering a student. The school board deemed those actions discriminatory; however, the news segments included considerably more voices in favor of the teacher than the trans student, and all failed to mention why misgendering someone is demeaning or harassing.

    On October 31, Virginia high school teacher Peter Vlaming was placed on administrative leave for refusing to identify a transgender student by his proper pronouns. According to The Associated Press, “Vlaming told superiors that his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns for the student,” and the West Point School Board voted unanimously to fire him for repeatedly violating the district’s anti-discrimination policy after a public hearing on December 6. Following the board’s decision, students and parents held a walkout and began circulating petitions in support of Vlaming, which have collectively garnered more than 15,000 signatures. Vlaming is considering legal action against the school district.

    Coverage failed to note the harms of misgendering trans people

    Despite extensively covering the story with 90 segments between December 4 and 12, not a single anchor or reporter explained why misgendering a trans student would be considered harassment or noted that those actions stigmatize trans folks and erase their identities. However, 33 of those segments did include language that Vlaming's actions were "hostile" or "threatening" -- nearly all of which were from one of two short clips of school administrators speaking during the hearing.

    For instance, several stations aired a clip of Superintendent Laura Abel testifying that “by failing to follow the directive” to refer to the student by the correct pronouns, Vlaming was "discriminating" and "creating a hostile environment.” Stations also aired a clip of the school’s Principal Jonathan Hochman during the hearing, saying, “I can't think of a worse way to treat a child than what was happening. That was very threatening.”

    GLSEN, an LGBTQ-inclusive education advocacy organization, defines misgendering as “the experience of being labeled by others as a gender other than one that a person identifies with.” Misgendering not only invalidates the identities of trans people, but it can also have negative effects on their self-confidence and mental health. Trans adolescents already experience high levels of attempted suicide -- particularly transgender boys and nonbinary young people -- but a March study by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that “when transgender youths are allowed to use their chosen name in places such as work, school and at home, their risk of depression and suicide drops.”

    School districts and states around the country have adopted affirming policies to respect trans identities and to condemn bullying based on gender identity or sexual orientation. GLSEN's Model School District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students encourages schools to respect students’ names and pronouns to improve their experiences and reduce the harms caused by non-affirming practices like misgendering.

    Tech companies have also passed similar policies to prevent anti-trans harassment on social media platforms. In September, Twitter banned “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals” as part of its “hateful conduct” policy, acknowledging that those practices are meant to “dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes.” Media Matters’ Parker Molloy praised the decision in a November 29 op-ed for The New York Times, noting that misgendering and deadnaming are used to deligitimatize trans identities and can discourage trans people from voicing their opinions:

    As a transgender woman, I find it degrading to be constantly reminded that I am trans and that large segments of the population will forever see me as a delusional freak. Things like deadnaming, or purposely referring to a trans person by their former name, and misgendering — calling someone by a pronoun they don’t use — are used to express disagreement with the legitimacy of trans lives and identities.

    Defenders of these practices claim that they’re doing this not out of malice but out of honesty and, perhaps, even a twisted sort of love. They surely see themselves as truth-tellers fighting against political correctness run amok. But sometimes, voicing one’s personal “truth” does just one thing: It shuts down conversation.

    Virginia TV news coverage featured considerably more statements in support of the anti-trans teacher

    In addition to framing their coverage around Vlaming’s firing instead of how such harassment is harmful to students, Virginia TV news stations also aired considerably more statements that were sympathetic to the anti-trans teacher than the trans student. Virginia stations covered the story a total of 90 times between December 4 -- when station WRIC (ABC) says it broke the story -- and December 12. Throughout those segments, there were 82 clips of quotes or statements read in favor of Vlaming compared to 52 clips of quotes or statements read in favor of the student or the school board’s actions holding Vlaming accountable. (Repeated instances of the same person being quoted in one segment were counted as one statement.)


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    Furthermore, while the majority of clips supportive of the student came from repeated airings of two short clips of school officials speaking at the hearing or readings from official school district statements, many segments showed lengthy or multiple clips of Vlaming, his lawyer, and students defending his actions. For example, a segment on WVEC 13 featured multiple clips of a student supportive of Vlaming interspersed throughout the segment.

    From the December 6 edition of WVEC’s 13News Now:

    Only one segment included a quote from a parent, friend, or student supportive of the trans student at the center of the case, which was read by a reporter on WRIC’s 8News. Additionally, stations aired five quotes that appeared neutral to the story, either calling for more discussion, describing the events, or saying that the situation was not good for either side.

    WAVY-TV 10 had particularly one-sided coverage, airing 18 statements or quotes in favor of Vlaming throughout 15 pieces of coverage compared to only 7 statements or quotes in favor of the student or school board’s actions.

    Similar cases have emerged that are being supported by extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom

    While Vlaming’s story plays out in Virginia, several similar cases around the country are already being supported or litigated by the influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). In November, ADF attorneys announced that they had filed a federal lawsuit representing Nicholas Meriwether, a Shawnee State University professor who received a formal warning for not using the appropriate pronouns to address a transgender student. Additionally, an ADF-allied attorney said in June that the group was working with an Indiana high school teacher who also cited his religious beliefs for refusing to address transgender students by their appropriate names and pronouns.

    As Vlaming considers legal action and Virginia TV news stations continue to cover developments in his case, it is more important than ever that media contextualize the harms of misgendering trans people and give them a voice in these stories.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched iQ media for any mentions of “school,” “teacher,” “Virginia,” “fired,” “transgender,” or “trans” within 25 words of “pronoun,” as well as any mentions of “Peter Vlaming” or “West Point High School” from December 4-12 in all media markets serving Virginia: Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News; Richmond-Petersburg; Roanoke-Lynchburg; Harrisonburg, Charlottesville; Tri-Cities, TN-VA; Washington, D.C.-Hagerstown; Bluefield-Beckley-Oak Hill; Greensboro–High Point–Winston-Salem; and Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville).

    Additional research by Brennan Suen.

  • These national anti-LGBTQ groups are working to make anti-trans discrimination legal in Massachusetts

    ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY

    National anti-LGBTQ groups are aligned with and have worked alongside a campaign in Massachusetts that would repeal the state’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, which protect transgender people from discrimination in housing and the workplace and give them equal access to public facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. The anti-trans Keep MA Safe campaign was started by Massachusetts Family Institute, a state anti-LGBTQ group with direct ties to major national groups Family Policy Alliance, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Family Research Council.

  • 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: