On his Fox News show last night, Bill O’Reilly hosted a panel that discussed whether this week’s episode of Glee might be encouraging “alternative lifestyles.”
Fox News Host Gretchen Carlson led off the panel, saying that Glee was “pandering to the .3% of the American population that considers themselves transgender,” and complained that she had to “explain this to my 8-year-old, if I want her to see a nice family show with some nice music.”
There are two serious problems with these remarks – the first being the ridiculous idea that representation is somehow “pandering.” But more troublingly was the idea that Carlson hated the idea of having to “explain this” to her child. This statement actually explains exactly why characters like Unique are so important.
If Carlson is legitimately uncomfortable in having to “explain this” to her daughter, it’s because when she grew up, “this” was not explained to her, either by her parents or by the media – and because she lives in a part of our culture that simply does not have many (if any) transgender people in it. Study after study has shown that simply knowing someone who is LGBT can drastically improve the way a person sees LGBT issues. But for people who don't know a transgender person, most of their understanding of the issues and challenges that trans people face comes from the media. If Unique stays on as a character, and if Carlson’s daughter really likes the show, I think there’s a good chance she’ll someday be a lot less uncomfortable than her mom is now, when speaking about transgender people with her own children.
Next up was Fox News legal analyst Jeanine Pirro, who stood up for the episode, pointing out that “from day one, Glee has been the kind of show that has displayed kids that you don’t see on other television shows. Kids who are homeless, who are transgender as we see, who are handicapped, who are gay or whatever the issue might be and that’s exactly the point.” Pirro conceded to Carlson that only .3% percent of the population is transgender, but explained that that’s why it’s important that they are represented in shows like Glee.
Impressively, Pirro then informed O’Reilly’s audience that transgender youth are more likely to be victims of bullying, more likely to suffer from depression, and more likely to wind up homeless than other youth, and that it’s a good thing that “they have someone to relate to.”
But of course, Bill O’Reilly was unconvinced, and felt that if unsupervised children were watching the show, “they might go out and experiment with this stuff.” (it seemed like his use of the phrase “this stuff” referred to Unique, as well as the episode’s ‘sex tape’ plotline) He gave the example of his own desire to start smoking after he saw James Dean.
Pirro challenged him as well, saying (rightfully incredulously) “you think this is contagious?” to which Bill responded “I don’t know.”
Then O’Reilly and Carlson talked more about the problem with kids “experimenting” with being transngeder – and in the space of about 15 seconds, Gretchen Carlson:
- Conflated gender identity and sexual orientation
- Said that “celebrities maybe do it on the side”
- Added “it may be drug-fueled.”
O’Reilly then said that “a lot of these dopey kids are confused about who they are”
The messages sent last night by Carlson and O’Reilly are extremely dangerous. They told parents of transgender youth that their children are ‘dopey’ and that any attempt by the media to portray their lives is ‘pandering.’ They told teachers who may work with transgender students that those students shouldn’t be seen by other kids. They told parents of kids who might go to school with a transgender student, or who might see a trans classmate being bullied, that they are right to want to avoid discussing the transgender community with their children.
And as Equality Matters points out, these messages are completely divorced from reality:
John Oldham, president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), stated that there was “no evidence” that television shows could induce Gender Identity Disorder in young people. Dr. John Grohol, editor-in-chief of PsychCentral, agreed, writing that there isn’t a “shred of scientific evidence to support such a ridiculous premise.”
We are thankful that Jeanine Pirro was a part of this panel, and my hope is that any parents or educators watching this segment were able to recognize which one of these three truly had the best interests of children at heart, and saw young people as individuals – and that the other two only seemed to care about stopping kids from even being aware of ideas that they’re personally uncomfortable with.