Here’s Proof That Trans People Are The New Target Of ‘The Australian’s War On Queer People
We've crunched the numbers.
You might have noticed that trans people have recently been copping fierce heat from The Australian, which has been busy publishing pearl-clutching headlines and misinformation for months now.
Trans people have called the coverage a propaganda campaign and a war on trans kids. Far-right groups exploit melodramatic reporting to recruit new members, and research shows that media influences how people perceive and behave toward trans people.
Negative media representation is harmful, so we decided to peek behind the curtain and see what’s happening at The Oz.
Trans Coverage In The Australian, By The Numbers
We counted 68 articles about trans people in The Australian since June of this year, totalling almost 56,000 words. That’s somewhere between a Masters and a PhD in just a few weeks.
During October, the newspaper published an article a day on average. It won’t shock you to know that around 92 percent of the material is negative, while only eight percent is neutral or positive.
Most of the stories approach transitioning and trans people as threats. The main idea is that trans people are trying to access spaces like toilets to attack cis women — a transphobic myth for which there is no evidence.
A related argument is that trans women have an unfair advantage in sport, which is also unsupported by evidence. The coverage depicts trans women as bullies who abuse and harass cis women.
Meanwhile, The Australian uses phrases like ‘born a man’ and ‘biologically male’ to undermine trans women. As if that wasn’t edge-lordy enough, the reporting also dead-names people and includes straight-up slurs.
The @australian has attacked queer people today by calling us "fundamentalists" and implying that we're paedophiles. Demonising trans people for months wasn't enough apparently pic.twitter.com/cnPRTKvvQa
— Joshua Badge (@joshuabadge) December 15, 2019
The Oz also portrays trans folk as an insidious threat to children, devoting a lot of energy to talking about something called ‘social contagion theory’. This is the argument that social media and queers manipulate young people into ‘becoming trans’ or transitioning — as if that’s actually a thing.
Really, this is just a tired rebrand of the homophobic trope that queers ‘make kids gay’, propped up by flawed research. Thank you, next.
In response to such misleading reporting, the Australian Psychological Society released a statement discrediting ‘social contagion’ arguments. The opinion of 24,000 psychologists wasn’t enough though — the newspaper continues to promote the myth. Just for good measure, it’s also started spruiking the idea that childhood trauma ‘makes kids trans’.
On the whole, the newspaper prefers talking to anti-trans activists and conservative lobbyists rather than, y’know, trans people and experts. That’s a bit like if a news outlet got all of its info about renewable energy from coal companies — you’re not going to get the full picture.
One of the most cited sources is John Whitehall, a longtime opponent of trans rights. The reporting emphasises his credentials as a paediatrician, but he has no background in transgender health. He admits never having met a transgender patient and defends conversion therapy.
Or consider Patrick Parkinson who is, you guessed it, yet another controversial critic of trans rights. Parkinson is affiliated with the anti-LGBTI group the Australian Christian Lobby and heads his own conservative lobby group.
The Oz doesn’t think it’s important to mention these links when it quotes him, though. The outlet also loves to quote impressive-sounding organisations, but they don’t quite stand up to scrutiny. One story introduces the US-based Kelsey Coalition as ‘a group of worried parents’ rather than an evangelical anti-trans organisation. Another points to the US-based Rethink Identity Medicine Ethics, which doesn’t even have a website. Its leader is known for trying to keep conversion therapy legal in Minnesota.
So What Can We Do About This?
Well, the people who make the rules about reporting, the Australian Press Council, could adopt new standards for covering LGBTIQ issues.
A queer specific standard would help ensure that media representation of trans people is fair, factual and avoids harm. The Press Council did release some guidelines for reporting on sexual orientation and gender identity in November. One Australian writer labelled them “PC ideology” before calling queers “fundamentalists” and equating us to paedophiles, digging up yet another homophobic trope.
Real galaxy brains. At the end of the day, journalists and editors need better literacy if they want to report on topics which affect gender and sexual minorities. At the same time, newsrooms need to diversify in a meaningful way. Moral panics would be less likely to succeed if trans people had real representation in the media.
Joshua Badge is a lecturer in philosophy at Deakin University and an LGBTIQ activist. You can catch him on Twitter @JoshuaBadge. Alex Garcia Marrugo Alex is a linguist and a lecturer in Communication at Sydney Uni.