If anyone is wondering why Republicans have been so focused on rolling back transgender rights since President Joe Biden took office, part of the answer is Fox News.
According to a new report from Media Matters, the rightwing cable channel has aired 86 segments discussing transgender people since Biden took office. Most of them portrayed transgender athletes as a threat to girls’ sports or presented misinformation about health care for transgender youth.
Since January, the GOP has been obsessed with rolling back transgender rights. Far-right conspiracy theorists have made transgender rights their main target. Republican congress members have brought up transgender rights as a reason to oppose legislation from the COVID relief bill to the Violence Against Women Act. Republican lawmakers in dozens of states have introduced anti-trans legislation to take away protections that have existed for years.
Part of the reason for this is that Fox News – which many Republicans watch – has been covering transgender issues regularly, and mostly in a negative light. The channel is very influential on the right and surveys have found that it’s the most commonly cited primary news source and most of its viewers are Republicans.
Of the 86 Fox News segments from January 20 to March 18 that Media Matters evaluated, 54 mentioned transgender athletes and claimed falsely that allowing them to participate in sports will “destroy” women’s sports. Hosts and guests on the channel repeatedly referred to transgender athletes as “biological males.”
Thirty-three segments discussed Biden’s executive order that extended some anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ people. According to Media Matters, almost all of these segments said or implied that the executive order was just about transgender athletes, which is not true.
One segment on Tucker Carlson Tonight even called the executive order “probably the greatest blow to women’s rights we’ve seen in decades.” Not only does that ignore decades of underfunding women’s sports, abusive coaches and staff, and bullying towards girls who play sports – all of which are cited as real barriers for girls and women who want to play sports – but it ignores that Biden’s executive order was about non-discrimination protections.
The Equality Act got mentioned in 18 segments on Fox News, and it was also covered negatively. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called it the “gay and transsexual supremacy act” in one segment.
Other Republicans who discussed the Equality Act ignored the bill’s purpose – to extend federal anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ people – and instead falsely claimed that the bill would force people to transition or allow sexual predators to attack women.
For example, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said that the Equality Act would “require our schools to expose girls in a junior high locker room to the genitals of a boy who identifies as a girl.”
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) said that the Equality Act would “replace mom and dad with bureaucrats,” which has no basis in the bill itself. If anything, many state GOP lawmakers are trying to pass laws that ban trans minors and their parents from making medical decisions.
Fifteen segments discussed gender-affirming health care for minors, which may include talk therapy, family therapy, and – for teens – puberty blockers to delay the onset of puberty so trans youth have time to understand themselves better before puberty permanently changes their bodies.
But Fox News portrayed these treatments as abusive to children and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) even called this kind of health care “a crime against nature” without even understanding what it is.
Fox News often defends itself by saying that it separates opinion from “straight news,” but 27 of the segments were presented as news segments on the channel.