Trans ‘unsupported’ by brands – C4’s ‘Mirror on Transgender People’ finds

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Mirror on Transgender People, the latest in Channel 4’s award-winning ‘Mirror on the Industry’ series exploring advertising representation, finds that only one in ten trans people feel brands support their community.

Transgender representation

The report concludes that transgender representation and the general public’s awareness of trans issues could be simultaneously improved by brands adopting a range of steps, including:

• hiring more transgender talent for on screen advertising roles.

• making the transgender identity of trans talent secondary to the narrative of the ad. This means including them with little or no mention of their trans identity and instead exploring other facets of their lives in order to normalise the representation of transgender people.

• avoiding depictions of trans people as a single, homogenous group.

The report found that at present, representation of transgender people within advertising is lacking overall, and portrayals are “commonly sensationalised” when they are featured on screen.

Furthermore, it reveals that the fear of anti-transgender backlash means brands are often reluctant to work with and showcase transgender talent “at a time when it’s needed most”.

It also highlights that there is broad agreement that people need to be more aware and educated on transgender issues and challenges, with a shared belief that any education attempt needs to put lived experiences of trans people at its heart.

These lived experiences include moments of ‘trans joy’ that come from self-acceptance, support and community.

The report is based on a three-stage methodology that included: a targeted survey of trans people to understand their lived experience; an in-depth focus group with trans people; and a focus group with transgender media industry professionals.

The research also identified major external challenges which currently limit transgender representation.

This ranged from divisive rhetoric in the public discourse to a lack of first-hand conversation with transgender people to share insights on their lived experience within brand campaigns.

In addition to advocating for more authentic transgender representation, the report’s authors encourage brands to stand their ground against online backlash and take steps to safeguard talent involved in inclusive campaigns.

Samantha Cannons, Research Manager at Channel 4, said: “Our research is clear on why the need to normalise transgender visibility on screen is so important.

“Levels of LGBTQIA+ representation in advertising have been low and stagnant since 2019, and run the risk of going further backwards if steps aren’t taken to tackle the reluctance of brands to address this.

“Advertising holds tremendous influence, which is why we need to see more ads with positive, creative and thoughtful portrayals of transgender people.

“Doing so not only has the potential to shift perceptions, but would also connect brands with transgender people in a way they haven’t been able to so far.”

The report was conducted by research specialists The Diversity Standards Collective, commissioned by Channel 4 in partnership with Wavemaker and Karo, the makers of E45.

It follows the launch by the skincare brand of its Channel 4 Diversity in Advertising Award-winning campaign – shining a light on the lived experiences of transgender people with a new TV ad debuting, and backed by over £1 million worth of commercial advertising airtime across the Channel 4 network across June.

The ad, This Is Me, This Is My Space, features trans people in the privacy of their bathrooms, focusing on personal skincare which helps them feel confident and comfortable.

Moreover, the report also follows the publication in March of Channel 4’s first equity strategy, “Equity by Design”, an ambitious framework that sets out how it will create fair outcomes for everyone and accelerate change in the industry.

The strategy details how Channel 4 will build on its industry-leading work, working to ensure there is equity in experience by improving how diversity and inclusion is built into decision-making.