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The Conservative Media’s Responsibility For Transphobic Violence

November 20, 2013 4:35 pm ET by Carlos Maza

November 20 marks the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance – a day to memorialize the members of the transgender community who lost their lives as a result of transphobic hate and violence. Transgender people are disproportionately the targets of hate-motivated attacks, and acts of brutal transphobic violence are a constant reminder of the work that remains to be done on the path to full LGBT equality and acceptance.

Unfortunately, much of this violence is fueled by misinformation and hate speech regularly peddled by right-wing media outlets. Experts on transgender violence have noted that media misinformation about transgender people legitimizes and contributes to the high rates of violence and abuse experienced by the transgender community.

Over the past 12 months, conservative news outlets like Fox News have routinely engaged in transphobic scare tactics and misinformation.

There was the case of former Army Private Chelsea Manning, who was routinely misgendered even by mainstream media outlets, and CNN in particular. One MSNBC guest suggested that offering Manning hormone therapy would “coddle” her. Fox News mocked Manning’s gender transition as “confus[ing]” and “bizarre.” The Fox & Friends crew ended a segment on Manning’s transition by playing Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like A Lady),” and a Fox host warned viewers not to be “deceived” by outlets referring to Manning as a female. The Daily Beast even published an op-ed suggesting that, as a transgender woman, Manning would have a lovely time being sexually exploited in federal prison.

There was the ongoing controversy over California’s AB-1266, a law that allows transgender public school students to have access to restroom facilities and extracurricular activities that fit their gender identity. In the lead up to the bill’s passage, Fox News repeatedly attacked the bill by inaccurately stating that young boys would pretend to be transgender in order to sneak into the girls’ restroom. The Media Research Center went so far as to videotape one of its male employees pretending to be transgender outside of a women’s locker room. WorldNetDaily warned of the “brave new world” where transgender students would be protected from harassment, and conservative news outlets even ran with a completely fabricated story of a Colorado transgender student harassing girls in the bathroom.

And then there’s the debate over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which has prompted various conservative media outlets to warn that religious organizations might be forced to hire drag queens and could expose young children to transgender teachers.

The examples of trans-bashing in conservative media go on and on: Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly joking that a transgender inmate is too ugly to be sexually assaulted, Fox Nation using an image from Mrs. Doubtfire to criticize trans-inclusive healthcare, a pediatrician on CNN claiming transgender students will walk around bathrooms with their genitals exposed, Alex Jones worrying that transgender people will start “vomiting and crapping all over the place,” Bill O’Reilly suggesting boys who like the color pink should be sent “to camp,” a Fox reporter calling a transgender woman a “burly man wearing a dress,” the Daily Caller’s seemingly never-ending mockery of transgender students, etc.

All of these attacks have one thing in common: they’re meant to depict transgender people as dangerous, deviant, unstable, and worthy of mockery and ridicule. In its worst forms, conservative misinformation aims to characterize transgender individuals as a threat to children.

This kind of misinformation does real damage to transgender people and plays a substantial role in encouraging violence against them. As Human Rights Campaign Foundation Vice President Jeff Krehely told Equality Matters:

Coverage that portrays transgender people in a negative light is not news, but propaganda that further stigmatizes a community which faces horrific violence and discrimination at alarming rates. Negative and inaccurate depictions of transgender people in the media are not only unethical, they are dangerous. [emphasis added]

Violence against transgender people doesn’t occur in a vacuum – it’s legitimized and condoned by media figures and outlets that see transgender people as an easy target in their culture war demagoguery. In remembering the lives of those who were victimized by transphobic violence, it’s important to hold accountable those media figures whose rhetoric helped embolden and motivate the perpetrators of such violence in the first place.