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 a minority 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. This is especially apparent in the generational familiarity of trans people.
According to Gallup, while only about 30% of the general American public says they personally know a trans person, that percentage drastically varies when segmented by age. For example, 19% of Americans over 65 claim to know someone trans while half (50%) of Americans under the age of 30 do. This isn’t surprising when taken into account that 1 in 6 Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ, according to Gallup’s 2022 poll.
But there has also been a growing backlash from anti-LGBTQ activists who are targeting trans people, especially children, now that marriage equality was made law in the U.S.
In 2022, over 200 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed so far, with over half specifically targeting trans people, particularly youth. This follows 2021 as the most anti-LGBTQ legislative session in history. This hypervisibility typically comes at the expense of trans people who are demonized and scapegoated by politicians and in media.
That’s why it’s still necessary for trans people to be seen 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.
This year for TDOV, journalist and activist Raquel Willis moderates a town hall discussion for LOGO featuring a diverse collection of youth voices from across the community fighting for equality in the U.S. and shedding light on the realities faced by trans people today. Check out the event here. Willis and Chase Strangio, civil rights attorney at the ACLU, have been sharing actions throughout the week leading up to TDOV with focus on particular states each day. Go here to see more about Trans Week of Visibility and Action.
Simultaneously, GLAAD collaborated with filmmakers Sam Arndt and Sophia Emmerich on a project called More than a Name: A Shifting Recognition of Transgender People Across the Globe. Arndt and Emmerich who produced AB HEUTE last year in response to proposed legislation that would have made it possible for trans people to update their name and gender marker in Germany failed to pass. In the process and through conversations with activists around the globe, the filmmakers sought out to show the. reality that Germany is not an isolated case. This led to the collaboration with GLAAD to expand the project further by interviewing 12 trans people from around the world, sharing about the discriminatory systems trans people face in order to be legally recognized and respected in their home countries. More than a Name: A Shifting Recognition of Transgender People Across the Globe provides a glimpse into the inconsistent cultural barriers trans people navigate in order to be themselves despite the consistent presence of trans people today and throughout history across the world.
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 2022, there are 42 regular and recurring characters appearing on broadcast, streaming, and cable. However, these 42 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.
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%).
To learn about some of the TV shows, films, and creators GLAAD celebrates for trans representation, read:
- 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards nominees include outstanding stories about trans people #GLAADAwards
- 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards nominees include outstanding stories about trans people #GLAADAwards
- From ‘Disclosure’ to ‘Pose’: What movies, shows to watch during Transgender Awareness Week
- #TransWeek: Trans Stories and Creators watch in 2019
Check out GLAAD’s 2020 #translovestories TDOV campaign here.
To learn more about what it means to be transgender, visit: /reference/transgender and /reference/covering-trans-community
To understand how to be a better ally to the trans community, visit: /transgender/allies
For answers to frequently asked questions, visit: /transgender/transfaq
For more resources: visit: /transgender/resources