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Journalismism

The BBC Is Being Gripped By a Wave of Transphobia

TERFism has enveloped the highest levels of the British media—and we can't be complacent about it.

The BBC headquarters, Broadcasting House.
Alexander Svensonn

We are living in a time of incessant elite moral panic, where marginalized people are being used to fuel conservative hysteria and bury any kind of politics that imagines a better and more equal society. For a look at how bad things can get, we have only to turn our attention across the pond to TERF Island—aka the United Kingdom, where transphobia is running wild and only getting worse.

In the last few days, the BBC—the most important media outlet in the UK, and one of the most influential in the world—has gone on the march against its own LGBTQ staff, who have committed the crime of requesting that the broadcaster treat trans people like human beings.

The BBC is a supposedly non-ideological outfit, but—setting aside the inherent ridiculousness of that claim—it is deeply impacted by what is happening within the wider British media and political establishment, and that establishment has gone certifiably bonkers about the existence of trans people. According to one analysis from trans writer Shon Faye, the Times and Sunday Times—the leading establishment papers in the UK—published over 300 negative articles on trans people in 2020, a year when, oh, one or two other important stories might have been happening.

Now, the BBC has jumped into the pool with gusto. In the last few weeks, the outlet ran a boogeyman podcast series about the supposed tyranny of Stonewall, the leading LGBTQ rights group in the UK. What was Stonewall’s biggest crime? You guessed it: refusing to demonize trans people. The BBC then withdrew from a partnership with Stonewall because, the Guardian reported, “it believes coverage of transgender issues should be considered an impartiality topic that requires the inclusion of critical voices.” For context, the Guardian reported that the BBC does not believe that (cis) gay rights, or climate change, require a similar approach. (Not that the Guardian, recently seen censoring Judith Butler for criticizing transphobes, is blameless here.)

And most appallingly, the BBC ran a piece of so-called journalism that will surely come to haunt it in the not-too-distant future. The premise of the piece was that cis lesbians are being pressured into having sex with predatory trans women against their will. It relied heavily on shoddy anecdotal data and input from openly transphobic groups, and, most disturbingly, its sole named source turned out to have a string of allegations of assault and rape against her (something the BBC admitted it had been informed of), and subsequently posted a genocidal screed against trans people.

This is what you are allowed to get away with when the culture is being gripped by a wave of hatred. The BBC has refused to apologize for the article, though it modified it slightly, and in a meeting with LGBTQ employees—some of whom are quitting because the internal environment has become so oppressive at the organization—BBC bosses essentially told the workers to go to hell.

From the Sunday Times (sorry, the story is paywalled):

The BBC’s head of news told LGBT staff that they must get used to hearing views they disagreed with as the corporation faced accusations from its own employees that it was “institutionally transphobic”. Fran Unsworth, who is due to leave the corporation in January, was speaking on an often-hostile Zoom call with the BBC’s Pride network on Friday morning.

[…] Two sources who attended the meeting said Unsworth, 63, told staff: “You’ll hear things you don’t personally like and see things you don’t like — that’s what the BBC is, and you have to get used to that.” She added: “These are the stories we tell. We can’t walk away from the conversation.” A BBC journalist said: “Fran was totally calm but determined about it. She was reacting to questions from the network that implied people shouldn’t come across views they disliked. To me, it felt like she was having to explain journalism to idiots.”

Imagine telling a room full of LBGTQ journalists that they need to get used to hearing people say things they don’t like about queer people. (Pretty sure they’re rather experienced with that, Fran, given they live on this planet.) But note also that the LGBTQ staffers are portrayed as anti-journalistic babies just trying to impose their will on the poor BBC. The article later goes on to claim that TERF-y BBC staffers are the ones living in fear, saying that people “felt unable” to proclaim that trans rights threaten women’s rights (those things are not in opposition, but whatever!!!).

But it gets even more insane:

The next front in this culture war is expected to be the corporation’s style guide for journalists. In it, “homosexual” is defined as a person who is “attracted to people of their own gender”, which matches Stonewall’s advice, rather than “their own sex”. It also says journalists must use the pronoun “preferred by the person in question”. The BBC has published articles in which sex offenders who were born male but identify as transgender women were repeatedly referred to as “she”.

The heavy implication here is that the BBC will be facing internal and external pressure to begin deadnaming trans people, presumably because to use their preferred pronouns is to bend to the will of the trans conspiracy (naturally, the Sunday Times uses the example of “sex offenders” to push this line).

The fever gripping the UK is not something that we in the United States can afford to be complacent about, because it is already in our cultural and political bloodstream. On the political level, things are already pretty terrible here. There is more anti-trans legislation being pushed across America than ever before. But things are ominous culturally too. There’s the Dave Chappelle affair, of course, but equally telling for me is that Kathleen Stock, the British professor who used a controversy around her transphobia to turn herself into a supposed martyr of liberal discourse, is one of the prominent figures involved in the anti-woke scam known as the University of Austin. It’s all very, very bleak.

There will be a time when polite society will speak in generalities about the hardships trans people faced, and what a different and regrettable time that was, and the people who say that will need vocal reminding that they were clearly wrong then, and that they had a chance to do the right thing, and that they failed. But we’re not in that time yet. We’re in this time.