Over the past two days, FOX New Channel has contributed to increasing public misconceptions about the efforts of the Maine Human Rights Commission to make the state’s public schools safe and comfortable for all students. Fox aired two irresponsible segments on the commission’s proposal to issue guidelines on “Sexual Orientation in Schools and Colleges” to all Maine public schools.
The proposed guidelines direct administrators to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms and to participate on gender-segregated sports teams in accordance with their gender identity. These guidelines were developed in response to a case, currently before a Superior Court in Maine, of a transgender girl who was denied access to the girls’ restrooms at school.
The guidelines do not create any new legislation. They are intended to instruct public school educators and administrators on how to ensure their schools are in line with the Maine Human Rights Act, amended in 2005 to include protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation which the act defines as an umbrella term including gender identity or expression.
On Tuesday, April 13th, the FOX coverage of this story began with America Live anchor Megyn Kelly hosting Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, to discuss the potential impact of the proposed guidelines on Maine’s students:
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Throughout the interview, the inaccurate headline “Maine Considers Ban on Gender Specific School Bathrooms” sat at the bottom of the screen, despite Keisling’s explicit comments to the contrary. Kelly’s lack of knowledge about transgender children and gender identity in general was demonstrated by her repeated reference to transgender girls using male pronouns, and her implication that these guidelines would essentially allow boys into girls’ facilities.
Keisling did an excellent job of educating Kelly and her viewers about the true reasons for, and positive impacts of these guidelines, and we thank FOX for its decision to invite such a qualified spokesperson on the air. However, the the network’s own misrepresentation of facts is highly problematic.
The irresponsible commentary and reporting then increased yesterday when Bill O’Reilly, Lis Wiehl, and Kimberly Guilfoyle discussed the proposal with shocking flippancy and disregard on The O’Reilly Factor. O’Reilly’s answer to the question of how to accommodate a transgender student was:
“Why is it bad to use the boys’ room when you were born a boy? …You were born a boy, and that [the boys’ bathroom] is where you’re going. And if you don’t like it, you can go home and go to the bathroom and come back.”
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This line of commentary by O’Reilly and Guilfoyle was disturbing at best. It completely failed to address the intense discomfort and harassment that trans and gender non-conforming students endure on a daily basis when forced to use gender-segregated facilities at school.
FOX’s coverage of this story reduced and twisted the powerful and necessary guidelines for creating inclusive and respectful learning environments into a crude and biased argument about public restrooms, and misrepresented the experiences of transgender children in schools.
In contrast, local media outlets in Maine have been covering the story fairly and accurately since early March, when the commission met to pass the proposal but ultimately decided to postpone a decision until it had allowed more time for public commentary.
On Monday, unfortunately the commission cancelled the public hearing and announced that it would be postponing any further work, at least temporarily. The Bangor Daily News printed a thorough and fair story of this decision.