Something that’s puzzled me for a while is how so many people believe that Donald Trump and his administration are pro-LGBT+ when they’ve been so viciously anti-LGBT+: from the transgender military ban onwards, they have mounted a sustained attack on the basic rights of LGBT+ people in an ongoing campaign to remove the most basic human rights such as protection from discrimination in housing, healthcare and employment.
The most recent example of that is the November 1 rule that will allow adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBT+ parents. Agencies that receive federal grants will no longer have to abide by non-discrimination guidelines thanks to new “religious freedom” exemptions, exemptions that also apply to sexual health education, youth homelessness programmes, drug and alcohol recovery programmes and other key services.
It’s a horrible backwards step that’s going to have terrible effects on some of the most vulnerable people, so why aren’t more people up in arms about it?
Because they don’t know about it.
A study by MediaMatters found that the majority of America’s top newspapers didn’t report it. Of the top 50 titles, 28 didn’t publish a single item in print or online about the new rule.
Of the papers that did report it, many uncritically quoted extremist anti-LGBT+ evangelical groups including the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council. Only one paper, the New York Daily News, reminded its readers that these organisations have spent decades inciting hatred of LGBT+ people.
The lack of context means that people are incredibly ill-informed.
It is also crucial for media to cover individual actions like the new rule as one piece of the Trump-Pence administration’s broader, vehemently anti-LGBTQ record. The New York Daily News and The Washington Post provided two good examples of this in their reporting, as both contextualized the rule as part of the larger attack and rollback of LGBTQ rights. Most coverage unfortunately failed to do this, which may mislead readers into thinking the administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights could be a one-off occurrence.
As MediaMatters explains, the mainstream US press was keen to portray Trump as pro-LGBT+ during his presidential campaign on his say-so, and it has conspicuously failed to report on anti-LGBT+ actions by his administration since he took power. That has left a vacuum the right-wing press and social media have been only too keen to fill with propaganda.
In the absence of meaningful mainstream reporting on Trump’s anti-LGBTQ onslaught, right-wing and evangelical media often dominate coverage of the issue and twist the attacks on basic LGBTQ rights into a fight for “religious freedom.”
The news media’s job is to report and contextualise, to educate and inform, to speak truth to power. When it fails to do that, whether by bias or omission, it becomes part of the problem rather than part of the solution.