TJ Billard: Voices for Transgender Equality

February 8, 2024
Headshot of TJ Billard

Thursday, February 8th at 3:30pm
Freedom Forum Conference Center, Carroll Hall

Transgender rights have emerged as an important topic of everyday conversation across the country in recent years and become, in many ways, the flashpoint du jour of the American culture wars. During the Trump presidency in particular, transgender people were thrust onto the center stage of US politics. Faced with unrelenting hostility and an increasingly complicated media system, transgender activists crafted new communication strategies to fight for their equality, stall attempts to undermine their rights, and win the support of large swathes of the public.

In "Voices for Transgender Equality: Making Change in the Networked Public Sphere", TJ Billard offers an insider's view into transgender activism during the first two years of the Trump administration. Drawing on extensive on-the-ground observation at the National Center for Transgender Equality, Billard shows how these activists developed an unlikely blend of online and offline strategies to saturate a diverse ecology of national news outlets, local and community media outlets across the country, and both public and private conversations across multiple social media platforms with voices in support of their cause. Moreover, these activists navigated the complex flows of information and ideas among these different domains of the communication system as they worked to shape the national conversation on transgender rights. As Billard argues, this movement occurred at a very particular time in the development of the media system, with "new" media shaping the movement in important ways that are both generalizable to other social movements and unique to transgender activism.

TJ Billard is an assistant professor in the School of Communication and, by courtesy, the Department of Sociology at Northwestern University, where they are affiliated with the Center for Communication & Public Policy and the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing. Outside of Northwestern, they are the founding executive director of the Center for Applied Transgender Studies in Chicago—the leading academic organization dedicated to scholarship on the social, cultural, and political conditions of transgender life—and editor of the Center’s flagship journal, the Bulletin of Applied Transgender Studies. Dr Billard’s research spans political communication, the sociology of social movements, and transgender studies, with a primary focus on the relationship between media and the US transgender rights movement. They also conduct research on typography and graphic design, with an emphasis on the role of design in political branding.

Students can earn Campus Life Experience (CLE) credit.