Britain’s bad journalism risks normalising transphobia

Why is the media inaccurately reporting on the Gender Recognition Act?

In recent years there has been a notable increase of hate crimes in the UK. Home Office statistics noted in a 2016–17 report that one of the biggest increases was the amount of transphobic hate crime. Stonewall found that last year 41% of trans people suffered a hate crime, with that figure going up to 53% for trans youth aged 18–24. Worryingly a YouGov study suggested that 79% of trans people did not report the crimes due to a fear of further discrimination.

I believe a big part of the rising transphobic attitudes in this country can be attributed to how the media reports on trans issues. It is entirely possible that it is only through the news that some people will learn about trans people, highlighting the importance and responsibility of positive representation. The unfortunate reality is that a lot of British media is being actively hostile towards transgender equality and it’s hard to understand why.

The false claim that reforming the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to make life easier for trans people is an imminent threat to cis women’s rights has become a mainstay of the right-wing press over the past year. On closer inspection it’s clear that the GRA doesn’t impact upon which spaces trans people use and reforming the act won’t change this. Britain already operates on a system of self-id and has done for decades. The fear mongering is impacting the safety of trans people though, especially that of trans youth.

Increasingly media sources seem to think the best way to report on this issue is by finding the most radical voices possible. The danger of this is that the vile transphobia we’ve previously seen as unacceptable becomes a little less so. The goal posts are moved, and this translates into more bullying, demonization and hate crime. We also need to acknowledge that audiences contain the vulnerable trans people being discussed, who will feel distressed and intimidated; as well as the transphobic bigots who see the current coverage as permission to distress and intimidate.

Airtime needs to be justified with purpose and carefully prepared for. It can’t be what it is now which is largely the spread of transphobic misinformation and moral panics. Instead of people with genuine insight into the GRA and the lives of the transgender people, we are hearing lies that the proposed changes are dangerous. We need to challenge these people more robustly. Why aren’t we talking with experts about countries with the changes already in place, or what the proposed changes actually are?

By bending backwards to appear fair to trans exclusionary radical bigots, the media is actively distorting the truth and colluding with transphobes attempts to detoxify their brand. They describe these people as feminists which suggests they value women’s rights but that clearly isn’t what they are about. Worse still, presenters are routinely letting completely unacceptable things slide, such as the misgendering of trans women — I’ve been a victim of this myself (via BBC R4). Referring to someone as the wrong gender can cause great distress and ignores both the science around gender and the intentional harm caused by such a statement.

These groups will say they aren’t transphobic, but their actions suggest differently. Reports and videos from their meetings show them repeatedly deadnaming trans women — a very personal and cruel insult. Even if you don’t believe in a trans person’s gender identity, their name is their name. Things like this aren’t called out and won’t be. It’s just part of a transparent attempt to draw in more concerned people while retaining the group’s core base of transphobic bigots.

The usual speakers for this group are people like Linda Bellos who was recorded inciting violence against trans women and Germaine Greer who called for rape sentences to be reduced; as well as people like Venice Allen who loves colluding with newspapers like the Times and the Daily Mail to attack the ‘loony left’ — the unsurprising continuation of some newspapers attacking queer equality and the Labour Party concurrently, with the unfair idea that the left is more concerned with equality.

Actions have consequences and it will always be the most vulnerable who feel them hardest. When trans women are being murdered at the highest rates since records began — including in London this year; when near half of young trans people are attempting suicide and 79% self-harm; and when the community are the victims of bullying, domestic violence and sexual assault at incredibly high rates, every newsroom needs to take a good look at itself and do better.