BBC transphobia

BBC journalists are transphobic, and tell transphobic untruths. You can complain here. Here are the BBC’s Guidelines. Particularly relevant are section 15, conflicts of interest and section 4, impartiality. Here are some complaints against BBC transphobia, and their responses.

Complaining is not difficult. First it asks, What is your complaint about? A dropdown box gives alternatives- TV, radio, website, Iplayer, Sounds, reception. Once you choose, there are further questions- what channel, or what website. It then asks for the specific URL (link), or the title and date of the programme.

It offers categories for your complaint- bias, factual error, offence, poor quality, scheduling, standards of interviewing, too much or not enough coverage, and other. It asks the subject of your complaint in fifty characters, a short introduction like the heading of an email.

Then it asks for your complaint. This need not be long, but should give some concrete details. My examples are below.

Then it asks for personal details- title, name, email address so they can respond, whether you are over 18. Finally it gives you a summary of your complaint, which it will also email to you. So far, so user friendly. Unfortunately, the response is often “We have investigated, and found we behaved impeccably”; but there are things you can do even then.

27 October 2021: in this complaint, I let my feelings get away with me. There was a vile article, claiming that trans women are sexual predators on lesbians. I can hardly believe I am typing this. Here is an archive link. Here is an open letter of complaint explaining what is wrong with the article, so you don’t have to read it yourself.

I only have so much mental energy for a complaint. I want to do other things. Letting my feelings rip, like this, makes it less hard to do. Making it more effective takes more effort.

Pink News reported prominent lesbians such as the publisher of Diva and Grace Petrie supporting trans people, and a BBC spokesperson saying their article “went through our rigorous editorial processes”. That is not the defence they seem to think it is.

Here is my complaint:

The article is vile. It alleges there is a common problem of trans women coming on to cis lesbians, not taking no for an answer, and calling those lesbians transphobes for resisting. There is no credible research backing this claim. It echoes homophobic myths against lesbians alleging they won’t respect straight women’s boundaries, common in the 1990s.

It conflates two issues. It quotes tweets claiming rejecting trans women as partners is transphobic, but that does not mean the tweeter would pressure someone in real life. Regular tweeting, as the anti-trans campaigners often do, that they would never on any account have sex with a trans woman, or that trans women cannot be lesbians, is transphobic.

The only trans voice quoted in the article is of an anti-trans campaigner who regularly writes against trans rights, who believes he is a man, who has claimed he “traumatised” his wife. His guilt and shame is no excuse for his anti-trans campaigning.

The article portrays anti-trans propaganda as a serious issue and a problem for cis lesbians, inciting hatred against trans people. It would better fit the Volkischer Beobachter than the BBC. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

That bit about the Volkischer Beobachter gives a nice that’s telling them kick at the time, and I believe it: they were inciting hate against a minority, using propaganda. And they will think it mere hyperbole, going to the worst comparison because I could not specify what was wrong. I could not specify all that was wrong with the article because I could not bear to read it. Those who hate us and want everyone to hate us will be encouraged.

1 November 2021: a standard BBC response: “We have found we behaved impeccably”.

Thank you for getting in touch. We have received a wide range of feedback from those who find the article challenging as well as those who welcome its publication.

The article was carefully considered before publication, went through a rigorous editorial review process and fully complies with the BBC’s editorial guidelines and standards.

Some argue that the article is flawed because it is “based on a survey of 80 people”. The article itself states there is little research in this area; that the survey featured was conducted on social media and is therefore self-selecting; and even the author of the survey admits it may not be a representative sample. Furthermore, there is a link to the detail of the findings which enables the reader to make up their own minds about the replies the sample generated.

But the article is more than just the survey.

The journalist’s work involved months of speaking to many people about the topic and the article includes testimony from a range of different sources and provides appropriate context.

As a public service broadcaster we explore a wide range of issues and perspectives. And we believe it deals with a matter worthy of investigation. We have a strong commitment to impartiality, which means we constantly consider and evaluate which stories to cover and how. Impartiality is fundamental, and includes covering stories on any point of the spectrum of debate. And stories should be seen not just individually, but in the broader context of our wider coverage.

The piece has prompted many complaints and many appreciations and we will consider all feedback carefully.

Yeah, right. I write back.

The BBC had thousands of complaints about its foul article, but produced a single response, which did not address my complaint.

The article gave undue prominence to a few complaints of trans women demanding sex from lesbians, then to complaints that saying trans women cannot be lesbians is transphobic. It thereby conflated the two, and made the problem seem far greater than it really is- if any of those incidents of pressure in person actually happened.

Tweeting regularly, as the anti-trans campaigners often do, that trans women cannot be lesbians and trans women’s female partners are not lesbians, is transphobic. Anyone is entitled to refuse sex, for any reason, but not to continually tweet that a particular group is unattractive. The article quoted some response to this, but not the provocation.

The issue of trans women physically pressuring cis lesbians for sex, if it happens, is rare, but extraordinarily prejudicial, designed to foment hatred against trans women and well calculated to do so. It is like similar myths about lesbians in the 1990s, allegedly failing to respect straight women’s boundaries.

The issue is precisely like David TC Davies MP using the case of the rapist Balal Khan to inveigh against Muslim immigration. It foments fear and hatred against a vulnerable minority on the basis of the actions of a few, exaggerated to make them look worse than they are. The BBC recycles the propaganda of hate groups.

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20 September 2021: On Today, starting at 1.50 in the link, Justin Webb interviewed Rosie Duffield MP. This was repeated on the Best of Today podcast. I complained:

Trans women are culturally women. The term “biological men” is not neutral, scientific or objective. We are accepted or tolerated in the culture as women, our identity is as women. That identity is how we are defined by psychiatry and gives us the right to change our passports and driving licences. Calling us “men” or “males”, with “biological” or any other qualifier, falsely gives the impression that it is rational to roll back the Equality Act right for trans women to use most women’s spaces, as the anti-trans campaigners demand. We call ourselves “trans women”. It is courteous to use that term.

What matters is how the culture sees us, as “trans women”, not how the anti-trans campaigners would define us. My womanhood is as “biological” as that of anyone with a uterus, unless you believe in a “soul”.

On 17 September Webb asked Ed Davey “Do you believe there should be places in our society where biological males can’t go?” The BBC justifies this as putting the other side. But interviewing Rosie Duffield on 20 September Webb spoke of “male bodied biological men” in his introduction, and never suggested that trans women were entitled to be in any women’s spaces. Instead he offered her space to justify her retweet, and claim trans women were straight men. Nor did he challenge her objection to “The ‘Q’ word”, queer, as in LGBTQIA. I am queer. Her offensive objection to me using that word was unchallenged.

Duffield tweeted “I do not accept self-ID as a passport for male-bodied biological men to enter protected spaces for biological women.” That is a call to reverse the Equality Act, which allows trans women into women’s services as soon as we have decided to transition, without any need for psychiatric involvement. The reasonable query is, “Should trans women be allowed in any women’s spaces?” Questioning as he did, Webb challenged Davey’s support of the Equality Act and colluded with Duffield’s opposition to it. This gives the impression Webb has an anti-trans bias.

13 October: The BBC responds, there is no intention to give offence. “A person’s gender identity may be different to the biological sex they were born with and this was the distinction Justin was seeking to make in the interview. He was not denying trans women’s lived experience and we don’t agree the term itself is transphobic.” So, calling trans women “men”, or “biological men”, is not transphobic and does not deny trans women’s lived experience. Hmm.

However, that did not address the complaint. So I complained again. The complaint is balance- he challenged Sir Ed Davey, the trans includer, and fawned on Rosie Duffield, the trans excluder.

27 November: Again they write saying they have done nothing wrong- “we do not agree that it is wrong to use the term ‘biological male’ or that doing so suggests an anti trans bias”. They gave the opportunity to complain to the Executive Complaints Unit.

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21 August 2021: On Today, starting at 1.53 in the link, Justin Webb interviewed Lorna Slater of the Scottish Greens, who may enter government at Holyrood. I heard after 10pm, and dashed off something angry, but this is the basis of my complaint.

This is the first time the Greens might enter government in Britain, a historic moment at the time of climate breakdown. However Webb wasted nearly half the interview on gender recognition. He stated, “You’re allowed to discriminate at the moment in terms of someone’s legal sex. And you would like to change that. Is that right?”

Gender recognition, a minor technical matter which only affects trans people, is devolved. The power to amend the Equality Act is not.

In the case of AEA v EHRC, campaigners against trans rights argued that a trans woman was legally a man until she got her gender recognition certificate (GRC). The judge refused that argument, saying, “it is in my view clear beyond argument that Parliament has chosen, in the 2010 Act, to place transsexual persons in a different position from the generality of persons of their birth sex.” That is, the GRA, which changes legal sex, has no effect on access to women’s services, even though they are referred to as “single-sex” or “separate sex” services, because the Equality Act uses sex and gender as synonyms, and treats trans women as women from the moment of decision to transition.

Since the Equality Act, trans women have been legally entitled to self-identify, by “proposing to undergo” a process of transition. After they make this decision, even if they are still presenting male sometimes, they can use women’s services. They can be excluded from women’s services if it is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, but that is not based on their sex or gender, but the fact that they are trans.

Webb was stating a legal position which never had much credibility and has now been decisively rejected. He asked what Slater thought about discrimination law, but that is not her remit.

Webb should be up to date in his questioning. He should not put a legal position as fact, when the courts have rejected it.

Webb should read up on devolved powers before interviewing Holyrood politicians, and not ask them about Westminster matters when that is irrelevant.

Webb devoted more than half the interview to gender recognition, a minor, technical matter. He should not do a sycophantic interview, but should have given Slater an opportunity to speak of her hopes of entering government.

The legal position Webb stated was an argument put by anti-trans campaigners in their attempts to exclude trans women from women’s spaces. There is too much coverage of the anti-trans campaigners’ position. Given that their position has been rejected in court, this is reporting biased against trans people.

Interviewers should put contrary arguments to interviewees so they can explain their position. However they should not put falsehoods presented as fact, so the interviewee has to explain what the facts are.

I got a response quickly: 23 August at 4am.

In the case of political interviews it is often understood by audiences that the interviewer will play “devil’s advocate” in order to pursue a line of enquiry with an interviewee. Just because an interviewer puts forward a particular position, it does not mean that it can be inferred that this is their own view – no matter how aggressively they might pursue the argument. This is part of the grammar of the political interview and is often appreciated by the audience of such a programme.

We do value your feedback about this. All complaints are sent to senior management and we’ve included your points in our overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the company and ensures that your concerns have been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future content.

This is not good enough. Webb made three assertions of a falsehood.

one of the things that’s controversial in your own party is changes to the GRA which would allow people who say that they are female, say that they are women, to be regarded, entirely as women and have access to women’s spaces

But also you are allowed at the moment you’re allowed to discriminate at the moment in terms of someone’s legal sex, aren’t you, and you would like to change that,

are you saying that someone who identifies as a woman will have total access should have total access to spaces that are at the moment women only?

He then interrupted to say “It’s just a yes or no”. But it’s not a matter of “should have total access”. It’s that trans women have access unless there is some good reason to exclude.

Webb should not assert a falsehood as if it were true. He could say, “Some people claim that this will affect access to women’s spaces. Is that true?” Putting a falsehood as true is not acting as “devil’s advocate”. It is different from putting a contrary opinion. Check the facts, and do not put falsehoods. Describing the falsehood as a claim is clearly different from asserting the falsehood as true. “You’re allowed to discriminate and you would like to change that” is simply false. These falsehoods are used to inflame prejudice against trans women, by creating a sense of entitlement to exclude us. The real story is how well-funded and well-publicised these falsehoods are.

At the moment there is no problem. Trans women are in women’s spaces, as we always have been, without incident. The anti-trans campaigners have to pretend there is some change, which will produce some great flood of “men in women’s spaces”, because those men are not noticeable already. I asked the BBC to review their response, and have had a standard acknowledgment saying they currently are not meeting their guideline of a response in 20 working days.

12 October: Further response from the BBC stating that they could not respond within 20 working days, and I could complain to Ofcom. So I did, and got a reply: they will not normally write back to me about progress or outcome, but will investigate if my complaint raises a potential issue.

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I complained about Newsnight, 4 December 2019, an interview by Emily Maitlis.

Emily Maitlis: I wanted tonight to use your expertise to better understand gender self-identification. Trans groups have been ignored and discriminated against for a long time. Are you saying now that anyone can self-identify without the need for medical certification?

Clare Flourish: Yes. Having to get medical certification is humiliating. Trans people know who we are. No one will pretend to be trans and make a statutory declaration that they intend to live as the opposite sex. This legal change will sweep away prejudice.

EM: Do you believe that gender is assigned at birth or do you believe in biological sex?

CF: Of course I believe in biological sex. But gender is assigned at birth from blue or pink it’s a boy/girl cards to different clothes, toys, hobbies. People want to know if it’s a boy or girl, and from birth speak to and treat them differently. When the assigned gender is profoundly wrong, we allow people to transition. People don’t do that on a whim, but because it is their only way to be themselves in this society.

EM: If anyone can self-identify as a woman they can then inhabit spaces that are meant for women only. You’re happy with that?

CF: Yes. Trans women are not a threat to women. Anyone who is clearly not transitioning should not be admitted, but most men would be ashamed to claim to be a woman, or pretend to be a woman. Men feel no need to pretend to be a woman before they enter women’s spaces and assault women. Trans women should be in women’s space. We are not a threat.

EM: If police forces record male rapists as women by their own self identification is that OK?

CF: The Gender Recognition Act excludes rapists and I would not want to change that.

EM: Rape Crisis calls itself a feminist organisation run by women for women. Now if male bodied people identify as a woman, are they allowed in your rape crisis centre where there may be abused women who are seeking refuge from violence? But it’s their right isn’t it? This is their refuge this is their safe space this is their space?

CF: Trans women can be seen separately.

EM: Well take it away from a rape crisis centre take it to a swimming pool or changing room take it to a changing room take it to somewhere where women feel they’ve earned the Right to go and change in privacy.

CF: Most trans women would not want to attract attention and would prefer a separate cubicle.

You’re making this a conflict between women’s rights and trans rights. I don’t believe there is any such conflict. Everyone benefits when others are free to be themselves. Trans women subvert gender stereotypes. There are very few trans women and cis women will rarely see us. We do not want to attract attention or cause trouble because we may be hurt. But when we can be ourselves, everyone is liberated to be more themselves too. Everyone benefits from an accepting, tolerant society.

Of course, I was not interviewed on Newsnight. Instead it was Dr Sarah Wollaston, standing for the LibDems. Emily Maitlis barracked and challenged her in an unacceptable way. For example,

EM: We’re looking at the women [she means cis women] in this case.

Well no, you should not. You should take into account everyone’s rights when considering policy, not attempt to protect one group while ignoring another.

When Dr Wollaston said trans women don’t want trouble, Emily Maitlis responded, “This is about Law. Your manifesto is about Law and when women may read this in your manifesto and say I don’t know how I can vote for the Liberal Democrats any more because they seem to be erasing our rights?”

Well, I would not advise anyone to vote LibDem unless the LibDems were the only candidate with a chance of beating a Tory. But no-one should decide on this issue alone when the Tories threaten the country and when Labour offer a chance of decent public services and a nation run in the interests of its people rather than billionaires and corporations.

The suggestion that trans women erase women’s rights is inciting hatred against us.

Dr Wollaston did quite well, saying we have no wish to threaten anyone and if we are causing problems we could be removed. Ms Maitlis responded “if anyone’s threatening anyone you’d hope they’d get kicked out it is the sense Sarah that women thought that they had earned the right to have changing rooms or toilets or perhaps a rape crisis centre or safe house and know that that was for women you’ve said you’re for women run by women yet the Liberal Democrat manifesto has made clear that there is self-identify…”

She became incoherent. I resent the assumption that I am not a woman, and that if you talk of “women” you exclude me. Culturally, I am a woman. I should not be erased either.

These questions were unacceptable. Couching them as questions makes no difference, it’s like asking “what about the people who find [Insert minority here] dangerous?”

The original programme is no longer available.

On 6 December Emma Barnett interviewed Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, on Woman’s Hour. At 12.50 she starts a 40 second harangue, rather than a question:

“A striking policy of yours is the reform you want to make to the Gender Recognition Act which will allow anyone without any doctor involvement something we’ve discussed at length here on Woman’s Hour to change their gender on all official documents. Gender self-identification as it’s referred to will mean a blanket law which could mean any predatory man could self-identify as a woman to gain access to women in what have been traditionally women only spaces especially vulnerable women for instance women’s shelters do you understand why some women are very concerned about this?”

Of course they won’t. This is the lie the transphobes use to claim they are not anti trans, just anti self-ID, to inveigle in women who are not anti trans. Once you enter the rabbit hole they start on about how no one is a “genuine transsexual”.

Though Jo Swinson made good points, saying there should be no hierarchy of equalities, trans women would not be likely to be violent, trans women are women and no one asks for your birth certificate when you go to the loo, Barnett continued repeating the point.

This tweet shows Emily Maitlis parroting the same lie: We discussed gender self identification last night #newsnight. It’s not “these people“. It’s the fact a blanket law would allow any predatory man to self identify as female to gain access to women. That’s the danger.

This is a myth, used to foment hatred against trans women. Men do not pretend to be trans to assault women, they just barge in. Men would not get a GRC to be able to assault women, because it would prove premeditation aggravating the crime and the penalty, and open them to a charge of perjury. The myth is spread to foment fear in cis women of trans women. Is that a trans woman, or a man wanting to assault me?

The myth is used to oppose a law reform fitting trans human rights which only affects trans people.

The myth is used to inveigle women into online and off line spaces where extremists claim trans women are not “genuine”, casting doubt on our motives, or simply that all trans women are men. No BBC news presenter should express such hate filled opinions. It is incompatible with 15. 3. 14 of the BBC editorial guidelines, and perhaps other guidelines.

A cis woman might read this tweet, then see me in a loo and feel sudden fear: is that a man pretending to be trans to assault women? What good does that do anyone? Like all hard right promises, it does you no good but you are conditioned to want it. It is merely symbolic. Brexit-you voted for it! Immigrants- are they taking your jobs? Feminist campaigning seeks material benefit and equality, such as equal pay, but even the campaign for more women in boardrooms achieves more for women than the anti-trans campaign.

As this is a tweet, the social media guidelines apply: All BBC activity on social media, whether it is ‘official’ BBC use or the personal use by BBC staff is subject to the Editorial Guidelines and editorial oversight in the same way that our on platform content is.

Three complaints against the BBC in three days!

Unfortunately the BBC response was a brush-off. “We’re not preaching hate against you! We’re saying there are people who look exactly like you who are the danger, not you!” Thank you for contacting us regarding the interview with Dr Sarah Wollaston, broadcast on Wednesday 4th December on Newsnight, and subsequent Tweets about it.

We have spoken with the programme team about your concerns. Dr Sarah Wollaston was invited on to the programme to discuss Liberal Democrats’ position on the Gender Recognition Act, and to clarify what changes would be made under their government.

The Lib Dems are one of two political parties – Labour being the other party – who have outrightly pledged in their recent manifestos to reform this Act, a move which has been welcomed by many voters but has been criticised by some, including some women’s right groups and campaigners. As a live policy debate in the week before the election, we consider it was appropriate to question a representative from the party on this issue.

Right at the beginning of the interview Emily Maitlis said, “Trans groups have been ignored and discriminated against for a long time, we recognise that.” When the discussion moved on to the subject of self-identification, Emily raised the issue that some predatory males may use loopholes to self-identify as ‘female’, when this is in fact not their intention, to commit offences against women. Here Emily was simply reflecting the voices of people who would oppose these changes, and it shouldn’t be inferred as her own view.

This is also a subject that has previously been debated in Parliament, so we consider it was entirely legitimate for Emily to question Dr Wollaston on this issue. Dr Wollaston was given ample time to put across her views and to answer the questions put to her.

In regards to Emily’s Tweet, she was simply reflecting that she was not meaning trans people in this portion of the interview, but certain people who may exploit this law for their own ill gains.

On 20 January, I got the brush-off about Woman’s Hour:

Emma was discussing the Gender Recognition Act, and to clarify what changes would be made under a Liberal Democrat government. The Lib Dems are one of two political parties – Labour being the other party – who had out-rightly pledged in their manifestos to reform this Act, a move which has been welcomed by many voters but has been criticised by some, including some women’s right groups and campaigners. As a live policy debate in the weeks before the election, we consider it was appropriate to question a representative from the party on this issue.

In her line of questioning, Emma was simply reflecting the voices of people who would oppose these changes, and it shouldn’t be inferred as her own view. This is also a subject that has previously been debated in Parliament, so we consider it was entirely legitimate for Emma to question Jo Swinson on this issue.

Not in those terms. Again, Barnett said, “Gender self-identification as it’s referred to will mean a blanket law which could mean any predatory man could self-identify as a woman to gain access to women in what have been traditionally women only spaces especially vulnerable women for instance women’s shelters.” That’s a false assertion. It’s her position, not her listeners’.

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