Bruce Jenner and the Katie Couric Effect

History shows that celebrity announcements can have a big impact on the public.
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Bruce Jenner at the season premier of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. (Photo: Helga Esteb/Shutterstock)

Bruce Jenner at the season premier of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. (Photo: Helga Esteb/Shutterstock)

For the first time since the world began keeping up with the Kardashians in 2007, the patriarch of this modern Brady Bunch has become the center of attention. Speculation about Bruce Jenner’s gender identity has set the gossip magazine and Internet world abuzz in recent weeks. CBS and BuzzFeed report that Jenner is slated to sit down with ABC's Diane Sawyer to discuss his transition and an upcoming docuseries about the ex-Olympian.

Somewhere between 0.25 and one percent of the United States population is transgender, but roughly a third of Americans don’t know what that means, according to a 2011 survey. Transgender describes any individual that doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, including females that transition to males, males that transition to females, and people that don’t identify with the dualistic construct of gender.

Somewhere between 0.25 and one percent of the United States population is transgender, but roughly a third of Americans don’t know what that means, according to a 2011 survey.

While social acceptance of gays and lesbians has been steadily increasing, transgender individuals still face a significant amount of stigma. In a recent survey, 90 percent of transgender individuals reported workplace harassment or discrimination. The were twice as likely to be unemployed as the general population, and four times as likely to be living in poverty.

But trans celebrities may be bringing about what Time magazine called the "new civil rights frontier." Chaz Bono, Lana Wachowski, Laverne Cox, and Bruce Jenner have all made transgender issues part of the zeitgeist of modern America. Research shows that when celebrities are open about their physical and mental health, it can have a direct impact on the public’s behavior. When Nancy Reagan had a mastectomy in the late 1980s to combat cancer, other American women battling cancer followed suit, opting for mastectomies over other, breast-conserving surgeries for at least six months. Similarly, Angelina Jolie's preventative double mastectomy led to a long-lasting global increase in referrals to breast cancer clinics for genetic testing and cancer services. This phenomenon is also known as the Katie Couric effect, named so after the news anchor's televised colonoscopy in 2000 helped raise colon cancer awareness and bumped up colonoscopy numbers in the general public. It's proof that celebrities can have substantial impacts on public perception.

If Bruce Jenner does confirm these rumors, it could empower transgender individuals, potentially motivating others to begin the transition to the gender they were meant to be.

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