If ever you meant it when you said you wanted to support trans people: now is the time!
Of late, I have been hearing from women. You are beyond astonished at media treatment of trans folk in the UK and are asking: “how can we help?” As the BBC contemplates changes to editorial policy that would turn its coverage of trans people from lop-sided to outright demeaning, you could start by standing up and telling them: #NotInMyName
The BBC has never been great friends to trans folk. Of late, the bias has intensified. Many people, not just within the trans community, are now asking: is the Beeb institutionally transphobic?
There have always been issues: Woman’s Hour, for one, has long been trans-sceptic. A key turning point, though, was a Newsnight, in early 2017. This began with Emily Maitlis tweeting that the key question was whether transgender primary school kids should receive surgery.
This was not just misleading, but untrue. It was also highly contentious when you reflect that the programme had supposedly researched the issue. Though perhaps the most telling thing was how little concerned the BBC was in their response to a formal complaint on that and related issues. (The Maitlis tweet was merely “regrettable”!)
Since then there have been many one-offs, following much the same pattern. Earlier this year, most trans people were largely unconcerned by the Harry Miller court ruling, in respect of excessive policing. Despite this, the BBC insisted on framing it as “major defeat” for us and one element in their reporting suggested that this result could be a green light to use transphobic language.
More recently, a simple press story about a cross-parliamentary group of MPs objecting to Liz Truss’ comments on trans people could not run as was. It had to be taken down and rewritten in order to present an “alternative viewpoint”. Balance, doncha know! Except that is NOT how reporting works. It is not the job of the reporter to add commentary to every story. The BBC knows this, as its defence of, say, Laura Kuenssberg, makes clear.
Now, two further developments are causing consternation. A couple of weeks ago, a page on the BBC online platform providing links to major trans charities, including Mermaids and GIRES was simply “disappeared”. In its place, now, is the suggestion that people wishing advice should consult with their GP. This is a route that trans people know to be flawed.
Second, there is evidence that the BBC is about to put in place a major review of editorial guidelines around language. Part of this will involve looking at language relating to sex and gender identity. Were that a balanced, neutral review, we would have little to fear. Recent history, though, as well as the public views of many of those closely associated with the review, is raising serious concern within the trans community.
Cause for concern
A couple of years back, anti-trans campaigners tried to set up a group within the BBC. Their aim was to roll back what they perceived as “too much trans rights”. One document I have seen included a demand that trans men and trans women be referred to as men and women who identify as transgender, or the frankly demeaning “transgender-identified female” and “transgender-identified male”.
That same document contained, as supposed given, the utterly untrue assertion that the majority (c.90%) of trans women do not have surgery. This is based, to be charitable, on a misreading of evidence to a government committee in 2015. A less charitable view would be that it is outright lie.
Since then there have been numerous instances of what looks like an active network of staff members intervening to skew reporting of stories relating to trans people.
Back then, the BBC would not endorse the formation of such a group. But time moves on and those aiming to set up that independent group now play a major part in the official Women at the BBC staff network, which is likely to be heavily involved in any upcoming review.
Why is that problematic? The review, like the removal of links to trans charities, was kicked off without consulting or involving trans organisations. As they say: if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear from being open and honest.
As for trans concerns about the even-handedness of those involved: many — perhaps most — of the women closely associated with this review have also expressed public support for organisations whose branding is heavily invested in the idea that reasonable accommodations for trans people and the rights of women are in conflict. I’m sure they’d say they are not transphobic: few trans people I know would agree.
Perhaps that does not matter. If you want to know whether someone is racist or misogynistic, don’t bother asking black people or women: just ask them!
Meanwhile, I am daily receiving reports of trans people in despair over the unceasing anti-trans campaigns in the media. A recent survey by TransActual found press transphobia was a concern to some 89.7% of trans people. This, by the BBC, would be the literal last straw for some.
What can you do?
- Write to the BBC: if you know people who work at the BBC, then please write!
Ask why links to trans-related charities have been taken down. After all, trans is one of the nine protected characteristics in UK Equality Law. Would the BBC do that to any other group? More information in this official complaint here.
Ask, too, how a major review affecting how the BBC covers trans issues could have kicked off with zero involvement by the trans community.
But don’t spam!
- Complain to the BBC: this is separate from and in addition to writing. The BBC count complaints and presently all they are seeing is a well-organised write-in campaign from anti-trans people. Don’t let them be the only voice. Check out how to complain. And feel free to make the same points as above.
- Talk/Write to your MP: If you believe that the BBC is institutionally transphobic, then say so.
This, together with other instances where its coverage has been skewed, starts to raise serious questions over whether it is salvageable as independent organisation.
Check out how to contact your MP.
- If you work at the BBC: take back your organisations. The anti-trans are a small but highly motivated clique. They get away with much, because many trans allies never get to see how much grief they are causing
- Use the hashtag: #NotInMyName says it all. Most women do not support the recent round of attacks on the trans community. Make it clear that you want no part of it, either!
- Organise: women across the UK are starting to organise to take back feminism and the debate over women’s rights from a self-identified campaign claiming to speak for all women.
It does not: yet it appears to be winning what its supporters claim as “culture war” — for trans people, it is anything but! — simply by virtue of the fact that many who disagree are too polite to do so publicly.
If you’d like to get in touch with other women who share your views, drop a line to TransActual (email@example.com)
Over time, there will be links available to additional resources for anyone wishing to help.
Meanwhile, you might like to check out: