(Friday, March 18, 2022) GLAAD responded to Twitter's refusal to remove anti-trans content from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that misgenders Dr. Rachel Levine, Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary and leader of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Paxton misgendered Levine in a tweet on March 17. Today, Paxton issued an additional tweet, objecting to the restricting of his March 17 tweet, and maliciously misgendering Dr. Levine again on Twitter. GLAAD flagged both of these targeted misgenderings for Twitter, asking for their removal, as they are a violation of Twitter's Hateful Conduct Policy.
Levine is the first out transgender health official confirmed by the Senate, and highest-ranking woman to earn the rank of Admiral and lead the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and its 8,000 commissioned officers. She was honored on Monday as one of USA Today's Women of the Year, which noted her service to protect lives during the COVID-19 pandemic and her decades of service as a physician, academic, clinical researcher and secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Health.
Paxton's record as Texas Attorney General includes issuing a politically-motivated, legally-nonbinding and inaccurate memo targeting families of transgender children for criminal investigation, issued days before the state primary. A Texas court issued an injunction to stop investigations and harassment of families. Paxton was previously indicted for illegal solicitation of contributions, and separately investigated for bribery and abuse of office.
Targeted misgendering is to purposefully incorrectly identify the gender of a person, often by using the incorrect pronoun or incorrect gender descriptor. Research published by the American Psychological Association (APA) illustrates the negative stress and harm brought to trans people when they are misgendered.
Twitter restricted Paxton's tweet on March 17, but did not remove it, stating that it is "in the public interest" to keep the tweet accessible (the text of Twitter's public interest policy exception can be found here). This is in contrast to action taken in October 2021, when Twitter suspended Rep. Jim Banks' account for targeted misgendering of Dr. Levine until Banks removed the tweet. In March 2022, U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Vicky Hartzler's tweet misgendering college athlete Lia Thomas was removed and Hartzler's account was suspended. Paxton's March 18 tweet remains live on Twitter's platform.
Statement from GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis:
"Simply 'restricting' harmful content is not enough. Platforming harmful anti-trans rhetoric is not in the public's interest. Social media companies have a responsibility to remove harmful anti-trans content that violates their own policies. As a four-star admiral and Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Levine is beyond worthy of USA Today's Women of the Year list, and she, like any human being, is worthy of respect. It is clear that some politicians see pushing malicious, anti-trans content on social media as part of their election strategy, even with the full knowledge that such content is violative and likely to be removed from the platforms or even get them suspended. This is absolutely shameful. Politicians and social media platforms can and must do better."
Last year, GLAAD began evaluating LGBTQ user safety experience across the social media landscape. GLAAD's Social Media Safety Index provides recommendations for the industry at large and reports on LGBTQ user safety across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok.
Among many recommendations, the SMSI called on other platforms to adopt and enforce similar policies to Twitter's Policy on Hateful Conduct, which includes a specific prohibition against misgendering and deadnaming. Last month, TikTok announced it updated its Community Guidelines to expressly prohibit misgendering, deadnaming, misogyny, and support or promotion of so-called "conversion therapy" programs on the platform.
From Twitter's Hateful Content Policy:
"We prohibit targeting others with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category. This includes targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals."