Is adspend funding an increase in LGBTQIA+ hate crime?
A view from Marty Davies

Is adspend funding an increase in LGBTQIA+ hate crime?

Endless anti-trans reporting is driving clicks and ruining lives, and advertisers need to act.

Brianna Ghey, a 16-year-old trans girl, was stabbed to death in Culcheth Linear Park in Warrington on February 11th. During the hearing on the following Wednesday, the prosecutor told the court that Brianna's death was "extremely brutal and punishing". Two teenagers, a boy and girl both aged 15, have now been charged with her murder and will stand trial in July.

The police said they were investigating the possibility that it was an anti-trans hate crime.

UK newspapers have stoked a trans-hostile environment

According to data from community database Dysphorum, over the past five years, there’s been a 217% increase in stories about trans people. In 2022, there were 7,525 articles, the vast majority with negative framing. In January this year, in the weeks leading up to Brianna’s murder, there were 1,202 articles. That’s an average of 38 articles a day.

The 2021 census for England and Wales revealed that just 0.5% of the population have a gender identity that is different from the one they were assigned at birth. That’s a huge amount of media coverage centred on a very small percentage of the population.

Traditional newspaper titles, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Guardian, The Independent, The Spectator, The Sun, The Telegraph and The Times have all contributed with trans-hostile reporting. I feel like they have blood on their hands.

Even in reporting the death of Brianna, the media failed her.

Brianna’s friend Jade told Vice World News she felt “sick” because of the way media outlets initially reported Brianna’s death. Some used her deadname (her birth name). Others ignored the fact she was trans. And when they did, they wouldn’t use her correct pronouns.

Hate drives attention, and we advertisers are paying for that attention

In Paris Lees’ podcast, The Flipside, Professor Mary McNaughton-Cassill (the clinical psychologist who studies how the news affects our stress levels and our well-being) explains that “...the way the brain works is, we pay more attention to sensational negative things” and “we’re always wired to be scanning for danger.”

I could have gone for a more sensationalist spin on the headline for this piece. Something like "Is there blood in your media plan?" to grab attention. But I chose not to. Yes, I want your attention, but I want your minds open to the evidence I'm presenting. And anger and fear are not emotions we should centre in our long-term decision-making.

Sensationalist, fear-inducing headlines are commonplace among UK newspapers. I don’t need to mention the full list of their targets here, but we all know them. It’s not informing us well. It’s not healthy. And we’re all the poorer for it.

Advertisers are unknowingly funding the largest anti-trans campaign we’ve ever seen

It’s an uncomfortable truth, but it’s one we must grapple with. We’re finding ourselves funding a forever intensifying, never-ending campaign of hate against the trans community. The World Association of News Publishers assessed that over 50% of news publisher revenue comes from advertising. The "gender critical" journalists are pumping out execution after execution of this hate campaign and are paid generously from our hands. This campaign is setting the news agenda and leading our whole media and politics to become infected by its poison.

It’s important for us also to consider the role of our social platforms and broadcasters in this ecosystem. They also have questions to answer. TV and radio broadcasters are platforming "gender critical" voices unchallenged – framing anti-trans narrative as "legitimate concerns". Sensationalist stories act like kindling for conversation across social platforms, allowing hateful views to burn like wildfire and become reinforced in algorithmic bubbles. Hate speech is commonplace and sanctions from platforms on users are slow if forthcoming at all. This commentary then provides content to be platformed and amplified by the media vying for attention to then sell on to us advertisers. 

This anti-trans campaign is incredibly effective

It’s no surprise to us advertisers that mass communication coupled with message reinforcement works. Professor Mary McNaughton-Cassill remarks that “if something is repeated often enough, we’ll assume it’s true.”

YouGov revealed attitudes toward trans people had eroded in recent years. Now, the majority disagree that a trans woman is a woman and the majority now believe allowing trans women to use spaces reserved for women presents a genuine risk to cis women (a common argument from the anti-trans lobby is that trans women are actually predatory men). 

And those changing attitudes inevitably lead to negative behaviours.

Last year, the government reported a 56% increase in recorded hate crime toward transgender people. 4,355 total incidents. The true figure is likely to be a lot higher according to a recent Stonewall study, revealing “81% of LGBT people who experienced a hate crime or incident didn't report it to the police.”

At the time of the release of these figures, LGBT+ anti-abuse charity, Galop, responded to this rise: “Transphobic narratives in the media, and at a senior political level, have been allowed to grow unregulated, unchecked, and unchallenged. That translates into violence against our community – particularly for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people. Let us be clear – there is a direct line between words and violent acts against our community, and always has been.”

Speaking at the Conscious Advertising Network’s first conference in November last year, I posed a question: “Which hate crime is your advert funding?” This question sticks in my throat now.

The Trans+ community needs unconditional and active allyship from advertisers

Listen, I believe passionately that we need a robust press and we need to hold power to account, but as a citizen of this country and a trans person, I know our press is not informing us properly on trans lives and trans people’s issues. The opposite is true – everything is through the lens of some people’s irrational issues with trans people, not trans people’s real issues. This is a repeat of the gay moral panic that swept through the media in the 80s. The trans issues that are not getting attention are mental health, accessible trans healthcare, hate speech and, yes, physical violence.

Politicians are using the trans community to distract from their failings and manufacturing a culture war. The media are caught in a model where hate is incentivised. And trans people are being failed as a result. Brianna was failed.

Speaking with Vice World Media, another of Brianna’s trans girlfriends, Hannah, said “If Bri would have wanted anything from her passing, it would be change.”

It falls on businesses to drive that change. We are that change.

I attended the vigils for Brianna outside the Department for Education and in Soho Square, I was struck by one message I read: "The trans agenda is an average life expectancy."

We need to wake up to our complicity as advertisers. Love is love, but it's money that talks.

Is there blood in your media plan? The answer is probably yes. It’s uncomfortable to read because it’s an uncomfortable truth.

Outvertising is working with organisations such as Conscious Advertising Network and Stop Funding Hate to develop practical positive steps you can take. But we also need our industry to develop solutions too. Talk to us and work with us to create change.

Let’s fix a broken ecosystem.

Let’s invest in quality, truthful and inclusive journalism.

Let’s remove hate from our media plans. 

Let’s let trans kids be trans kids – and let’s see them grow old.

Rest in Pride, Brianna.

Marty Davies (they/them) is joint chief executive of Outvertising, the marketing and advertising industry’s LGBTQIA+ advocacy group; and co-founder of Trans+ Adland, a grassroots community group of trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming and intersex people across the world of marketing and advertising. They are also the founder of creative strategy consultancy Smarty Pants.

To read more visit Outvertising.