A landmark new study has found that discussions surrounding race are the single biggest driver of transphobia online in the U.S.
Anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label worked with Brandwatch to analyze more than 10 million public posts between January 2016 and May 2019, in an effort to research transphobia.
The resulting study, “Exposed: The Scale of Transphobia Online,” found 1.5 million instances of digital transphobia, with race identified as the most common theme of transphobic posts in the U.S. and politics the most common theme in the U.K.
“This report should act as an eye opener,” Ditch The Label said in a tweet. “Equality and respect for all humans regardless of how they choose to identify or look needs to be the standard. The issue is not trans people, it’s the way society views trans people.”
Warning: This article contains language that some may find offensive.
Ditch the Label noted that former First Lady Michelle Obama was “at the epicenter of much of the amplification of transphobic language during the time period we analyzed, with conspiracy theorists suggesting she is trans, and frequently calling her ‘Mike’ or ‘Michael.'”
The charity also noted that Donald Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from serving in the military fueled further transphobia, as did the Boy Scouts of America‘s decision to allow pre-teen and teen girls to join.
Ditch the Label found that the single most-used transphobic term online was “tranny” or “trannies,” accounting for over one million of the transphobic posts found during the study.
“Shemale” was the second-most used term, with over 156,000 mentions, and “gender bender” the third most-used term with over 56,000.
The study compared constructive discussions of transgender issues versus transphobic comments and abuse across a number of different websites, and found that Instagram had the lowest ratio of abuse, comprising just 5% of posts.
YouTube overwhelmingly had the largest percentage of transphobic posts, relative to discussions of the issue, with 78% of trans-related posts found to contain transphobic abuse.
Ditch The Label also found that, compared with the U.K., “mentions across most of the site categories were more hostile in the U.S.”
“This report does not make for light reading as it uncovers the shocking and inhumane ways in which transgender people are targeted, harassed, and abused on digital platforms,” Ditch The Label CEO Liam Hackett said in a statement. “The online posts we uncovered, some of which have been shared thousands of times, range in severity from transphobic attitudes through to genocide and violence.”
The organization created a Pyramid of Transphobia to highlight how, left unchallenged, “digital hate speech can and does evolve into acts of physical violence committed towards trans people,” Hackett said.
The pyramid, modeled on the Anti-Defamation League’s Pyramid of Hate, shows how behaviors on the lower tier — transphobic attitudes, acts of trans bias — can support and lead to higher-level behaviors, such as transphobic violence and trans genocide.
Hacket said that Ditch The Label hoped its report would “bring the problem to the forefront of public conversation, and encourage an urgent review of hate speech guidelines on social platforms and in law.”
Trans model and activist Munroe Bergdorf said that the findings of the study “don’t surprise me.”
“As someone who is in the public eye, I experience abuse on a daily basis and I worry that there are people in my community who don’t have the support systems to allow them to access the strength to deal with abusive behaviors,” Bergdorf wrote in Ditch The Label’s report. “I’ve seen most of the transphobic comments in this report on my timeline, ranging from memes and abuse to actual threats to my safety.”
Bergdorf noted the correlation between transphobic comments and race — the most common theme in the U.S. and the second-most common in the U.K.
“As a trans woman of color, being subjected to these comments is extremely difficult to navigate,” she said. “You have to be dead inside to not let it bother you and it’s made even harder when you experience it all the time and the people perpetrating it don’t seem to be sanctioned for their behavior.
“I was interested to see the relationship between transphobia and racism and do feel that racist people see transphobia as a tool to legitimize their racism. I’ve had transphobic comments on photos of me mixed in with nazi speech a number of times.
“Transphobia is seen as a valid opinion,” she added. “We never look at racism, sexism or homophobia and say it’s an opinion, so why is transphobia such a ‘free for all?'”