Thomas J Billard

Thomas J. Billard

Assistant Professor in the School of Communication, Northwestern University
Executive Director, Center for Applied Transgender Studies

About Thomas

Billard's research focuses on media and the US transgender rights movement. Overarching themes in Billard's writings include the relationship between mainstream media and the transgender community, the strategic communications of the transgender movement, and the impact of media representations of transgender individuals and identities on the public's social and political attitudes. Billard serves as the founding executive director of the Center for Applied Transgender Studies in Chicago, Illinois, and as editor of the Center's flagship journal, the Bulletin of Applied Transgender Studies.


"Movement-Media Relations in the Hybrid Media System: A Case Study From the US Transgender Rights Movement" International Journal of Press/Politics (Forthcoming).

Explores the changing relationships between journalists and social movement organizations as social media has elevated the public profiles of lay individuals. Investigates how social movement organizations adapt their communication practices to maintain mutual relationships with journalists and influence over the public agenda. Discusses the significant resource costs these distruptions to pre-digital business-as-usual relations have on social movement organizations. Further demonstrates the complex strategic maneuverings transgender activists develop to ensure the protection of their precarious civil rights.

"'Passing' and the Politics of Deception: Transgender Bodies, Cisgender Aesthetics, and the Policing of Inconspicuous Marginal Identities" in The Palgrave Handbook of Deceptive Communication, edited by Tony Docan-Morgan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 463-477 .

Raises important questions about the nature of deception and status of deceiver, analyzing media discourses surrounding instances of transgender “passing.”  Argues that in positioning transgender people as deceivers who live out their genders to seduce heterosexuals, scrutinizing their appearances for signs of their “true gender,” media discourses surrounding transgender people who “pass” justify punishment for their deception through physical violence.

"Writing in the Margins: Mainstream News Media Representations of Transgenderism" International Journal of Communication 10 (2016): 4193-4218.

Examines representations of transgender individuals and identity in mainstream U.S. newspapers in an effort to understand the extent to which the transgender community is legitimized or delegitimized by news media. Finds that mainstream newspaper coverage of the transgender community is extremely limited, and that the coverage that does exist contains a significant amount of delegitimizing language, which it is argued will detrimentally impact both the projected legitimacy of transgender claims in the political arena and public perceptions of the transgender community.

"On the Boundaries of Framing Terrorism: Guilt, Victimization, and the 2016 Orlando Shooting" (with Nathan Walter and Sheila T. Murphy). Mass Communication and Society 20, no. 6 (2017): 849-886.

Investigates the effects of two dominant frames— the homophobic hate crime and the Islamic terrorist frame—on collective guilt, collective victimization, and pro–lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) political action. Discusses how, when compared to the Islamic terrorist frame, exposure to the homophobic hate crime frame increased collective guilt and decreased collective victimization, subsequently enhancing support for the LGBTQ community, though social network diversity was shown to override the framing effect, as individuals who reported high diversity were more likely to sign a petition in solidarity with the LGBTQ community, irrespective of frame condition.

"Setting the Transgender Agenda: Intermedia Agenda-Setting in the Digital News Environment" Politics, Groups, and Identities 7, no. 1 (2019): 165-176.

Explores the role of news media in the rapid ascent of transgender issues on the national political agenda. Investigates the relationship between digital-native and legacy press online news media as it concerns coverage of transgender issues. Discusses how increased coverage of transgender topics in digital-native press drives increases in coverage of transgender topics among legacy press. Further finds, however, that attention to some specific issues of relevance to the transgender community is driven by digital-native coverage, while attention to others is driven legacy press coverage, indicating a reciprocal agenda-setting relationship.