Transgender Day of Visibility

Each year on March 31, the world observes Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) to raise awareness about transgender people. It is a day to celebrate the lives and contributions of trans people, while also drawing attention to the poverty, discrimination, and violence the community faces.

International TDOV was created in 2010 by trans advocate Rachel Crandall. Crandall, the head of Transgender Michigan, created TDOV in response to the overwhelming majority of media stories about transgender people being focused on violence. She hoped to create a day where people could re-focus on celebrating the lives of transgender people, empowering them to live authentically, while still acknowledging that due to discrimination, not every trans person can or wants to be visible.

Given that only about 20% of Americans say they personally know someone who’s transgender, the vast majority of the public learns about trans people from the media. This is a problem because, as shown in the Netflix documentary Disclosure, the media has overwhelmingly misrepresented, mischaracterized, and stereotyped trans people since the invention of film. These false depictions have indisputably shaped the cultural understanding of who trans people are and have taught the public how to react to and treat trans people in their lives. It's going to take a lot of work to undo the harm caused by these depictions.

However, society is becoming more accepting as trans people feel increasingly comfortable and confident being publicly and fully themselves, and media representations of their lives begin to improve. In 2021, there are numerous trans elected officials in positions of power and decision-making. From the U.S. Senate confirmation of Dr. Rachel Levine, to the election of local leaders like Delaware state senator Sarah McBride and Kansas state representative Stephanie Byers, trans leaders are taking a long-awaited seat at the table, and showing voters that trans people are valuable contributors to society. But there has also been a growing backlash from anti-LGBTQ activists who are targeting trans people now that marriage equality was made law in the U.S. In 2021, with over 80 anti-trans bills introduced in over 25 states, transgender people are feeling hyper-visible, as they are demonized and scapegoated by politicians with their own agendas.

It is still necessary for trans people to be seen and through authentic, diverse, and accurate stories to reflect the actual lived experiences of trans people; both for themselves and for those people who believe they've never met a trans person. That includes in news media, where too often trans people's voices are missing from coverage of anti-trans laws and policies affecting their lives. Without trans people and experts weighing in, and without trans representation in newsrooms to help guide coverage, anti-trans discrimination is often misrepresented in the news as a “culture clash” rather than as targeted hate. We are starting to see progress in film and TV, but we still have a long way to go.

While representation of TV characters has significantly improved over the years, as of TDOV 2021, there are only 29 regular and recurring characters appearing on 26 shows. All of these 29 characters are played by trans actors. However, these 29 characters cannot possibly represent the full diversity of the trans community nor undo one hundred years of misinformed, inaccurate, and harmful representation.

To read more about the current landscape of trans representation on TV, read our latest Where We Are on TV report. 

Compared to TV, film lags significantly behind. According to GLAAD's Studio Responsibility Index which maps the quantity, quality and diversity of LGBTQ characters in films released by the major motion picture studios, there have been 0 transgender characters over the past three years. In prior years, one or two trans characters appeared, but only as punchlines or offensive stereotypes.

Blumhouse and Sony’s The Craft: Legacy marked a welcome exception in 2020 with the casting of trans Latina actress Zoey Luna as one of the lead witch protagonists. "The Craft: Legacy from Sony is charting a new course for inclusion in a major studio release," commented Alex Schmider, GLAAD’s Associate Director of Transgender Representation, upon the film's release.

To read more about the current state of trans representation in major studio films, read our latest Studio Responsibility Index report.

But does visibility and representation really lead to cultural acceptance? GLAAD and Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest advertiser, released findings from the first-ever LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising and Media study in early 2020, which measured how non-LGBTQ Americans respond to LGBTQ representation in television, film, and ads. Importantly, the results revealed that inclusive media images lead to greater acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ people.

A few of the highlights specific to the trans community include:

  • 41% of respondents who had been exposed to LGBTQ people in the media say they are more accepting of non-binary people over the past few years when compared to the respondents who had not recently seen LGBTQ people in the media (30%).
  • 80% of respondents who had been exposed to LGBTQ people in the media say they are supportive of equal rights for LGBTQ people when compared to the respondents who had not recently seen LGBTQ people in the media (70%).

“The findings of this study send a strong message to brands and media outlets that including LGBTQ people in ads, films, and TV is good for business and good for the world,” said GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis of the findings. 

To learn about some of the TV shows, films, and creators GLAAD celebrates for trans representation, read:

Check out GLAAD's 2020 #translovestories TDOV campaign here.

To learn more about what it means to be transgender, visit: https://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender and https://www.glaad.org/reference/covering-trans-community

To understand how to be a better ally to the trans community, visit: https://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies

For answers to frequently asked questions, visit: https://www.glaad.org/transgender/transfaq

For more resources: visit: https://www.glaad.org/transgender/resources