As the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) progresses toward a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, media coverage of its proposed protections for transgender workers is rising. Keeping a close watch over this coverage has revealed a disturbing trend among some reporters to include extremely defamatory remarks from anti-LGBT activists in an attempt to "balance" their stories with opposing viewpoints.
Most of the recent articles discussing ENDA problematically devote significant space to publishing defamatory statements about transgender people by anti-LGBT organizations like the Traditional Values Coalition and its executive director Andrea Lafferty. They frequently describe transgender people as “she-males” and mentally ill. Such defamatory remarks should never be used simply in an effort to provide opposing viewpoints, especially when they stem from a source that is listed as a Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry.
As we describe in GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide:
There continues to be a need for journalists to distinguish between opposing viewpoints on LGBT issues and the defamatory rhetoric that fuels prejudice and discrimination. While defamatory comments may be newsworthy, they should no longer be used simply to provide “balance” in a news story.
Unfortunately, anti-gay individuals and organizations continue to see their incendiary rhetoric and inaccurate, sensationalistic distortions of gay and lesbian lives legitimized through stories, features and profiles. Such inclusion, despite the best efforts of reporters striving for fair and accurate coverage, devalues the quality of journalism.
Today’s Washington Post article on the subject, for instance, begins by addressing House tensions over whether or not a full vote on ENDA would be wise given concerns about upcoming fall election results. However, three paragraphs follow with defamatory commentary from Andrea Lafferty and TVC:
The coalition’s executive director, Andrea Lafferty, has been lobbying members of Congress, and she describes them as “freaked out” by the bill. She tells members if they vote for the bill, they’ll be allowing “she-males” with “serious mental disorders” into children’s classrooms, leaving parents with no legal recourse.
The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) commented on the Post’s choice to publish her words:
It is quite problematic that the Post gave her a forum to promote the use of anti-transgender slurs and make assertions that just don’t match the facts about the reality of having transgender people in the classroom.
ENDA coverage by CBS News in April focused heavily on the views promoted by Lafferty – though after a call from GLAAD they later updated the story to include statements from NCTE.
The following week, CBS’ Washington Unplugged hosted HRC’s Associate Director of Diversity Allyson Robinson and Andrea Lafferty for what may have been a well-intentioned conversation about ENDA but ended up providing further ground for Lafferty to defame transgender teachers.
Whereas editorials like the one published in the Washington Times at the end of April (titled “Discrimination Is Necessary: Subjecting Kids to Weirdos Undermines Standards of Decency”) are created with the intention to spread this sort of misunderstanding and fear of transgender workplace protections, reporters striving for fair and accurate coverage need to look to non-defamatory sources for opposing viewpoints.
We will continue to monitor coverage of ENDA’s progress in the House of Representatives and reach out to media outlets that fall below the standards for fair and accurate reporting.