If the BBC were defunded, as the Conservative government seeks to do, broadcasting and newsgathering in Britain would be irreparably damaged. But it is institutionally transphobic, and makes complaints against them phenomenally difficult. Complain enough, and they suggest you write to the Executive Complaints Unit.
Here is my complaint against Justin Webb, explained for the Executive Complaints Unit in full.
This is a complaint about Justin Webb in Today. His questions to Lorna Slater MSP and Ed Davey MP, who support trans rights, and to Rosie Duffield MP, who opposes trans rights, show an appearance of bias against trans rights as they exist in English and Scots law now, and an unfounded scaremongering that trans rights might be extended in a way that is threatening to cis women.
Currently, the law allows trans women to use women’s services. Any exclusion is exceptional. The Equality Act 2010, section 7 defines “transsexual persons” as being protected from the moment we decide to transition, even if we are still presenting in the birth sex occasionally. Schedule 3 paragraphs 26 and 27 allow for single sex and separate sex services, but it is clear from AEA v EHRC that “transsexual persons”- trans men and trans women- are treated as our true gender, and that gender and sex, in the statutes, are perfectly synonymous.
Then paragraph 29 allows trans women to be excluded if it is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” (PMOALA). Because of the definition of who may be excluded, it is not affected by whether the trans woman has a gender recognition certificate or not.
The EHRC Code of Practice on Services, Public Functions and Associations gives “authoritative, comprehensive and technical” guidance on the detail of the law. It explains PMOALA at section 5.25-35. Reducing costs is not a sufficient aim. The aim must not be discriminatory in itself, objective, and legal. The more serious the disadvantage, the more convincing a justification must be.
13.60 Any exception “must be applied as restrictively as possible and the denial of a service to a transsexual person should only occur in exceptional circumstances.” It should apply on a case-by-case basis, not a blanket ban. The service should balance the trans person’s needs and the detriment to them against the needs of other service users. “Care should be taken in each case to avoid a decision based on ignorance or prejudice. Also, the provider will need to show that a less discriminatory way to achieve the objective was not available.”
The 25 November response to my complaint says “It was clear in the interview that the Equality Act does exclude trans people from single sex spaces in particular circumstances”. This is an overstatement of the case. Trans people can be excluded on a case by case basis.
13.61 the same rules apply to communal accommodation.
Rape Crisis Centres, as a matter of principle, accept trans women. It is hard to imagine a case where exclusion would be justified, and even then, it would be on a case by case basis, so the exclusion of one trans woman would not necessarily justify the exclusion of any other.
The term “biological men”
Trans women strongly object to being called “men”, with or without any adjective. We are a minority group, and should usually be referred to by a term acceptable to us. There is a clear difference between permitting trans women, 0.1% to 1% of the female population, to continue to use women’s spaces as currently entitled to in law, and letting men in. Reference to “biological men” obscures that difference.
Trans is a remarkably consistent phenomenon across the millennia and around the world. Deuteronomy 22:5 would hardly ban “men” wearing women’s clothes if it never happened. From Hijra in India to two-spirit native Americans, there are trans people everywhere. There has been trans surgery since the 1930s, and as the case of Ewen Forbes reveals this was recognised by the change of birth certificates in Britain until 1970.
While ICD11 recognises that trans is not a mental illness any more than homosexuality is, DSM 5 attempts to define it, as a persistent desire to be seen as, desire to be, or conviction that one is, of the opposite sex.
Unless you are a Cartesian dualist, believing in some sort of mind or soul separate from the physical brain, this phenomenon is biological, and research shows differences in trans people’s brains. I am not a “man”, and the addition of the adjective “biological” makes the phrase more inaccurate rather than less. I am a biological woman.
Any concept has fuzzy edges. “Mammal” includes the duck billed platypus, which lays eggs, and “woman” includes people with XY chromosomes and androgen insensitivity. In significant, widespread use, “woman” includes trans women.
On 21 August, Webb interviewed Lorna Slater of the Scottish Greens just before she joined the Scottish government. The interview started at 1.52.30 on the Sounds recording, and finished at 1.56.50. At 1.54.48 Webb asked,
“You will be very well aware that 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 it’s hugely controversial we know it is within the SNP as well Are you going to press those issues?”
As explained above, gender recognition does not affect access to women’s services, and Slater explained that.
At 1.56.30 Webb interrupts. “But it’s just a yes or no”. However it clearly isn’t, as Slater has explained.
The Scottish Greens hope to change Scots environmental policy. Webb asked about that too; but he devoted half the interview to a small, technical change in the law on trans rights, of far less relevance to the Scottish population, leave alone the rest of the audience. And, when corrected on his erroneous statement of the law, he persisted with it.
On 17 September Webb interviewed Sir Ed Davey. Webb asked, “Do you believe there should be places in our society where biological males can’t go?” This is a clearly confrontational position, using an offensive term. Of course there are places biological males can’t go, but that does not mean trans women should suddenly be excluded from them.
Confrontational interviews are not in themselves objectionable. The interviewer puts the position of an opponent so that the interviewee can explain and justify their position. The problem arises because Webb confronts and barracks those who support trans rights, but colludes with and supports opponents.
On 20 September Webb interviewed Rosie Duffield, and the interview was included in the Beyond Today podcast that day. Webb was now interviewing someone opposed to trans rights, even as they stand now. But rather than confronting her, he gave a supportive interview, giving her space to explain her position.
From Webb’s introduction:
“It’s fast becoming one of the biggest issues in British politics because it’s split the parties, particularly on the Left, the issue of trans rights. It pulls people apart. It’s about to come to a head in the case of Rosie Duffield, the Labour MP who believes and who has said clearly in the past that she does not accept self ID as a passport for male bodied biological men to enter protected spaces for women in other words a male cannot become a woman for all legal purposes even with all the hormonal and other treatments available. That view has seen her subjected to a torrent of vicious abuse on line and has led her to say that she cannot come to the Labour Party conference next week.”
Even if the phrase “biological men” was acceptable as putting an alternative point of view to Sir Ed Davey, it is clearly not justifiable as an offensive phrase and in echoing the language of the anti-trans campaigner Rosie Duffield.
The use of the qualifier “male-bodied” is also grossly offensive. Most trans women seek bodily alteration, but the waiting lists for gender clinics are years long.
“She does not accept self ID as a passport for male bodied biological men to enter protected spaces for women”. That is, she opposes the law as it stands now. We are entitled to use women’s spaces from the moment we decide to transition, before we have seen any doctor. We enter women’s services by self-declaration.
All women in public life are subjected to a torrent of vicious abuse on social media. The matter should be covered. But it is a questionable decision to cover it in this case. It perpetuates the myth that trans women, a tiny, vulnerable minority attacked by a storm of hate crime, are the dangerous ones.
The BBC should not take its news agenda from The Times. The Times has hundreds of articles abusing trans people and opposing trans rights every year. The Times unleashed “a torrent of vicious abuse” in its reader comments and even its articles at Laurel Hubbard, the first trans woman Olympian since trans women were allowed to compete in 2003. In fact Duffield attended the conference to address a fringe meeting.
By giving this interview such prominence, the BBC deflected attention from the Labour party’s programme as an alternative government to a fringe issue. Trans rights has a great importance to trans people, but minimal effect on the wider population. As shown, there is no proposal to increase trans rights.
Duffield says, “I didn’t want this to be a story Justin to be honest no I’m not sure how it kind of got out there I’d mentioned to a couple of friends that I was worried about my security”. This is a clearly ridiculous statement. She is an MP, saying that because of her position on trans rights she is worried about security. How could such an ingenue, completely unaware of the way publicity works, become an MP? But Webb did not pick her up on this. He is not asking the question any audience member supportive of trans rights, or wanting the Labour Party programme to gain publicity, would clearly want asked.
There was a deeply offensive tweet saying trans women were “cosplaying”. I find it hard to express how vile that is. I am a woman. Trans people explain as clearly as we can of the utter misery we feel before transition, and how transition is the solution. The DSM, and previous editions of the ICD, recognise this distress as severe enough to be a medical condition, and see transition as the solution. To reduce it to dressing up, or pretend, is analogous to saying a gay man should just find himself a nice woman.
Duffield then got a minute to explain why she thought the tweet was acceptable. She claims the word “queer”, which she called “the Q word”, is offensive. Well, those of us who use Q in LGBTQIA, or any other variant on LGBTQ, or call ourselves queer, or are in university Queer Studies departments, would disagree. Duffield says “There are men [in context she means trans women] married to women call themselves the Q word”. I have been abused in the street as queer, even called a “paedophile” because I am a trans woman. Trans women are queer.
Duffield says “they appropriate gay culture in a way that is deeply offensive to quite a lot in the gay rights movement”. Trans people are at the heart of the gay rights movement. There were trans women at the Stonewall riots. Stonewall is the largest gay charity in Britain. When organisations leave Diversity Champions, their protections for lesbian and gay employees are compromised. Stonewall is under attack because it supports trans rights. But Webb does not challenge Duffield’s claimed opposition of gay to trans rights, or give an alternative perspective.
Webb erroneously challenged Slater’s account of the Equality Act, but allowed Duffield to give her false view of the Act unchallenged. “If biological females need and want spaces that are just for them there we are we have the 2010 Equality Act”, she said. But the Act does not allow services to exclude trans women just because cis women want them to.
Instead of challenging Duffield’s interpretation, when Duffield said the Labour party has pledged to uphold it, he asked, “does that pledge in your view still stand I mean are you confident that it will also be the pledge at the next election?”
That is, he frames the news story as a chance that cis women’s rights to exclude trans women might be reduced, even though the Labour Party has promised not to. Then he fails to challenge Duffield’s claims that “the lack of ability to discuss it, means that we’re not certain”. The fringe meeting Duffield addressed indicates no lack of ability to bring together baying crowds to roar their disapproval of trans rights.
The BBC guidelines
The interviews individually and together breach the BBC guidelines on impartiality.
“We must always scrutinise arguments, question consensus and hold power to account with consistency and due impartiality”, says the introduction. Webb attacks Slater’s clear factual and accurate statement, and colludes with Duffield’s false statement.
“We must take care not to endorse … campaigns”, but Webb supports Duffield’s campaign, when interviewing her, and when interviewing Slater and Davey.
4.3.6. “Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact”. The interviews muddled both.
4.3.8. The Duffield interview provided an opportunity for a single view to be expressed. “The existence of a range of views and their respective weights should be acknowledged, and neither those views nor their respective weights should be misrepresented.” That was not done.
4.3.11 “Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal opinions of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.”
From Webb’s interviews, it is reasonable to suppose that he considers “male-bodied biological men” the appropriate term to use for trans women. He used that or similar phrases in combative interviews with trans supportive politicians, and a supportive interview with a trans-hostile politician. He falsely challenged an explanation of trans rights, and supported a false explanation. It appears that he opposes trans rights granted in the Equality Act, as explained by the Code of Practice and AEA v EHRC.
4.3.14 “Contributors expressing contentious views, either through an interview or other means, must be challenged” but Duffield was not challenged on her false explanation of trans rights or her false fears about the Labour Party position.
“The public expression by staff and presenters of personal offence or indignation, or the tone or attitude of an item or programme as a whole may jeopardise the BBC’s impartiality.”
Webb expressed indignation at the abuse of Duffield. If it were indignation at the abuse of prominent women on social media, that would be appropriate, but here it is conflated as trans people and our allies being portrayed as abusive, and his indignation appears to include trans people opposing Duffield’s views. This is not acceptable.
There should be impartiality over time, 4.3.22, in “multiple pieces of content that deal with the same or related issues and are editorially linked, within an appropriate period.” But Webb confronted trans-supportive politicians, and colluded with the anti-trans campaigner. 4.3.23 differing views should be “treated fairly”, but they were not.
From Webb’s behaviour in these interviews, it is reasonable to suppose that he is incapable of learning when Slater explains the Equality Act to him, and he opposes trans rights. This is a breach of the BBC guideline on impartiality.
You see this is a huge amount of work, absorbing relevant documents, transcribing interviews, constructing the argument. It comes from living as trans, and years’ work on the Equality Act and relevant law. It is emotional labour, too.
The latest rejection of my complaints gave me the opportunity to complain to the “Executive Complaints Unit”. But the link would only work once, the email said, so I did not click it before drafting my argument in full.
When I clicked, the link said I had to limit to 1000 words. So I wrote a new draft, cutting out a lot. Then after confirming my email, the next page said it was in fact 5000 characters- 813 words as I type, so I just slashed away at my draft to make it fit.
I was not happy to see this.
Fortunately, the complaint is in. They may decline it simply because some of the matters raised were not in my earlier complaint.
I will let you know any response. However, even getting to the ECU is something I suppose- my previous complaints have not had that invitation, they have just been rejected.
Eventually, I get back up again.