Centering Trans Voices Is Essential in News Coverage, New HRC Report Finds

Though most people are supportive of transgender rights, how stories are framed—and what stories they hear—matters.

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A participant at a rally and dance protest celebrating the lives of trans people of color and trans youth outside the White House on Feb. 24, 2017. (Ted Eytan / Creative Commons)

Ahead of Trans Visibility Day, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released a new report calling for authentic trans and non-binary experiences to be shown in media as one component of reducing marginalization and violence against trans people. Using data from a Civics Analytics poll, the new HRC report, “Trans Lives and Positive Visibility: How News & Media Can Positively Cover Trans and Non-Binary Stories,” highlights the media’s current methods of covering trans and non-binary stories, as well as offering recommendations for how these stories can be told better. 

“Trans Lives and Positive Visibility” Report Findings 

HRC has tracked more than 250 cases of known fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people since 2013, finding that roughly 80 percent of transgender and non-binary people killed in the United States are misgendered or deadnamed by media, the police or the criminal justice system. 

(HRC)

The report also shows a lack of positive coverage of trans and non-binary stories in the media; the report authors say this adds to further marginalization, invisibility and stigma of the trans community, which directly leads to violence. 

In 2021, the Williams Institute at UCLA found trans people were four times more likely to be victims of violent crimes than their cisgender counterparts, and over half of the crimes were not reported to the police. 2020 saw the deadliest year for trans and gender non-conforming people since HRC began tracking fatal violence against trans people, with 44 known deaths

The media must be more inclusive of members of the transgender and non-binary to assist in the development of positive and open-minded opinions for audiences everywhere, especially the large number of people who know nothing about trans people and their lives.

Jay Brown, senior vice president of programs, research and training at HRC

The HRC report also found 72 percent of adults either strongly or somewhat agree “transgender people should have equal rights and be able to live free of violence and discrimination.” But while a large majority of Americans are supportive of trans rights, many hold a common misconception about the level of equality that has already been achieved for the trans community. In part, these misconceptions are due to the kinds of media that Americans are consuming and what sources that media comes from. 

The political affiliation of the media outlet reporting on trans issues plays a large role in how trans and non-binary people are perceived, with HRC concluding that “overall, the more right-leaning media people consume, the more likely they are to believe the misconception that trans and non-binary people have equal rights and protections when trans and non-binary people do not.”

(HRC)

“In recent years, visibility for transgender and non-binary people has increased in politics, in the media, and beyond. Increased visibility and corresponding misinformation, especially from right-leaning media outlets, have underlined the need for representation in all areas to be not only numerous, but authentic to the lives and stories of transgender and non-binary people,” said Jay Brown, senior vice president of programs, research and training at HRC. 

“The data shows that the media must be more inclusive of members of the transgender and non-binary to assist in the development of positive and open-minded opinions for audiences everywhere, especially the large number of people who know nothing about trans people and their lives.” 

HRC recommends several ways for media and news outlets to improve their allyship to the trans community and make their content more inclusive. The recommendations include:

  • Centering authentic trans narratives in their coverage.
  • Featuring trans people in their own words.
  • Dispelling transphobic myths, especially regarding trans athletes.

These recommendations, paired with relearning trans history to dispel the notion of trans identities being new, will work to reduce the marginalization of trans and non-binary people and stop the violence the community still faces. 

A Brief History of Trans Visibility Day 

Founded in 2009 by Rachel Crandall, Trans Day of Visibility aims to act as a companion day to Trans Day of Remembrance, a day that mourns and remembers the lost lives of those in the transgender community who had been murdered. Crandall highlighted the fact that trans-centered days often focused on loss or discrimination, and called for a day that celebrated trans visibility and life. Crandall selected March 31 to avoid crossover with Pride and other important days, and, in her words, “wanted to create a day so we didn’t have to be lonely anymore.” 

In its 13 years, the conversation around using the word visibility has changed, citing that just being “visible” is not enough to push for societal trans liberation. However, the increase in representation and community building has been invaluable. While trans people have always existed, the ability to live openly and authentically with legal protections, albeit limited, is relatively new. 

Officially recognized for the first time last year in a proclamation from the White House, Trans Day of Visibility aims to celebrate the history of the trans community, the lives of trans people, and trans peoples’ contributions to society. 

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About

Ramona Flores is an editorial fellow with Ms. and is completing her undergraduate studies at Smith College, with a double major in government and the study of women and gender. Her academic focuses include Marxist feminism, transnational collective organizing and queer history. Her writing covers internet subcultures, reproductive care advocacy and queer theory. She hails from Austin, Texas.