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Northwestern School of Communication

Thomas J. Billard

Assistant Professor
TJ Billard studies the important role media plays in the social and political equality of transgender people in the United States and globally. In particular, they focus on the digital media strategies social movements use to fight both for and against transgender equality.

Area(s) of Expertise

Digital Media, Gender Diversity and Equality, Political Communication, Social Activism and Impact
Thomas J. Billard

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.

Prior to joining Northwestern, Dr Billard served as Consortium on Media Policy Studies Fellow and, later, as Archival Fellow at the National Center for Transgender Equality. In these roles, they established the Trans Equality Archive—the single largest collection of transgender political history in the United States—and conducted fieldwork for their forthcoming book, Voices for Transgender Equality: Making Change in the Networked Public Sphere.

Dr Billard’s research has appeared in a number of prominent academic publications spanning several fields, including Communication Monographs, Communication Research Reports, Frontiers in Psychology, the International Journal of Communication, the International Journal of Press/Politics, JCMS: Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Marketing Theory, Mass Communication and Society, Media, Culture & Society, and Politics, Groups, and Identities, as well as in venues such as the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics and the SAGE Encyclopedia of Trans Studies. Currently, they are co-editing a volume on public scholarship in communication studies with Professor Silvio Waisbord.


  • PhD Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California
  • BA (Hons) School of Media and Public Affairs, The George Washington University


  • “Deciding What’s (Sharable) News: Social Movement Organizations as Curating Actors in the Political Information System,” Communication Monographs (advance online publication).
  • “Designing Trust: Design Style, Political Ideology, and Trust in ‘Fake’ News Websites,” with Rachel E. Moran, Digital Journalism (advance online publication).
  • “Together We Rise: The Role of Communication and Community Connectedness in Transgender Citizens’ Civic Engagement in the United States,” Mass Communication and Society 25, no. 3 (2022): 335–60.
  • “Toward a Transgender Critique of Media Representation,” with Erique Zhang, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies 61, no. 2 (2022): 194–99.
  • “Movement–Media Relations in the Hybrid Media System: A Case Study from the US Transgender Rights Movement,” International Journal of Press/Politics 26, no. 2 (2021): 341–61.
  • “(Re)making ‘Transgender’ Identities in Global Media and Popular Culture,” with Sam Nesfield, in Trans Lives in a Globalizing World: Rights, Identities, and Politics, ed. J. Michael Ryan (New York: Routledge, 2021).
  • “LGBTQ Politics in Media and Culture,” with Larry Gross, in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, ed. William R. Thompson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).
  • “Networked Political Brands: Consumption, Community, and Political Expression in Contemporary Brand Culture,” with Rachel E. Moran, Media, Culture & Society 42, no. 4 (2020): 588–604.
  • “Out of the Tower and Into the Field: Fieldwork as Public Scholarship in the Face of Social Injustice,” International Journal of Communication 13 (2019): 3512–28.
  • “Setting the Transgender Agenda: Intermedia Agenda-Setting in the Digital News Environment,” Politics, Groups, and Identities 7, no. 1 (2019): 165–76.
  • “Citizen Typography and Political Brands in the 2016 US Presidential Election Campaign,” Marketing Theory 18, no. 3 (2018): 421–31.


  • Research Methods in Communication Studies
  • Media, Movements, and Social Change
  • Brand Management in the Digital Age
  • Foundational Theories of Media and Communication
  • A New Canon: Race, Nation, Gender, and Sexuality in Communication Studies