In a departure from the misinformation and false balance that typically dominate coverage of anti-LGBT legislation, several outlets have begun modeling best practices in reporting on anti-LGBT “bathroom bills” by highlighting the harmful impacts the laws have on transgender people.
Thus far in 2016, at least 16 different states have considered an unprecedented 44 bills targeting transgender people. Like the high-profile law (HB 2) recently passed in North Carolina, many of these bills aim to ban transgender people from public restrooms that do not correspond with the gender on their birth certificate.
In reporting on laws regulating transgender people’s access to restrooms, media outlets have frequently failed to debunk the anti-LGBT “bathroom predator” myth peddled by proponents of the law. The talking point claims that permitting transgender people to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity would open the door for predatory men to sexually assault women and children in public bathrooms. Although the “bathroom predator” myth has been repeatedly refuted by law enforcement experts, government officials, and women's safety advocates in cities and states across the country, journalists have uncritically parroted the talking point, providing free airtime to anti-LGBT activists. Outlets also often neglect to mention the high levels of discrimination and sexual assault experienced by transgender people.
But in a move toward more responsible journalism, national media outlets have started to actively highlight the harmful impact “bathroom bills” have on transgender people.
In an April 18 article on North Carolina’s anti-transgender law, The Washington Post reported on research that found “the public health impact” of discriminatory bills “may be severe” for transgender people. Reporters Soshana Goldberg and Andrew Reynolds extrapolated from research and data estimates to calculate the impact of proposed or adopted “bathroom bills” in six different states, predicting that “should these bills all pass, we can expect between 7,600 and 17,101 more youth suicide attempts in these six states.”
Samantha Allen, for The Daily Beast, reported March 17 that suicide rates rise among transgender teens when they are forced to use bathrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate. On April 20, about a month after North Carolina passed its “bathroom bill,” Allen reported that calls to a crisis call line for transgender people called Trans Lifeline had nearly doubled.
Colin Campbell at the The Charlotte Observer reported statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute: “41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide at some point in their lives – compared to just 4.6 percent of the general population.”
Covering anti-transgender legislation in ways that accurately reflect effects on the LGBT community isn’t just good journalism; it also gives voice to a population that has been traditionally disempowered in the media. With four states -- Illinois, Kansas, South Carolina and Tennessee -- pushing for anti-transgender bills, media outlets have the opportunity to follow the examples set by The Washington Post, The Daily Beast and The Charlotte Observer to shift coverage away from debunked myths and focus on the consequences of anti-LGBT legislation.