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The below letter was submitted today (31 July 2020) to the BBC on behalf of the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ organisations. We are calling, in one voice, for a full and transparent explanation as to why trans organisations were removed from the BBC’s former ‘Gender Identity’ page. Currently, no trans organisations covering England, Scotland and Wales are included in the new ‘LGBT Issues‘ page.

Those wishing to add their voice to this complaint can do so here.

To: BBC Editorial Policy Department

Cc: David Jordan, Director of Editorial Policy and standards; Tim Davie, incoming Director General; Baron Hall of Birkenhead, Director General

BBC Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group

Date [31/07/2020]

To whom it may concern,

BBC Action Line

We represent the UK’s leading LGBT+ organisations, further to the recent removal of transgender (‘trans’) support charities for England, Wales and Scotland from your BBC Action Line website.

We speak in one voice, as charities which have been removed from the now-defunct ‘Information and Support: Gender Identity’ page, as well as charities which have remained or been added to the new ‘LGBT Issues’ page. We also include other LGBTQ+ organisations concerned by the matters raised by this letter.

The decision to remove Mermaids, the former Gender Trust, and the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) (together, “the Charities”) from the gender identity page follows a concerted and orchestrated campaign of misinformation around transgender lives and those organisations working to support them. The BBC has effectively removed all transgender-specific charities supporting gender-diverse people in England, Wales and Scotland at the very moment they are most needed. This is a deeply concerning decision, particularly in light of increased misinformation and debate around trans people’s lives, which is being reflected in our national media.  We are seeing continued efforts from a small but motivated group of people to discredit legitimate organisations working to support trans people.

We have been informed that the rationale for the decision of the BBC’s Editorial Policy Department – a decision which was at no point shared with those organisations affected, read as follows:

“A decision to look at the gender identity information line was taken following audience complaints about the action line. This was against a backdrop of increasingly contested issues relating to trans issues and children. It is a complex area and the BBC needs to remain impartial when signposting audiences to organisations that can offer appropriate advice.

The updated LGBT Issues Action Line lists the NHS website and the LGBT Foundation, LGBT Helpline Scotland, Stonewall, Switchboard and The Rainbow Project as resources on gender identity. An additional Northern Ireland organisation – SAIL NI – which was discovered in the course of the Action Line review has been added. The NHS site contains further links to gender dysphoria services for children, young people and adults.”

Our concerns with this explanation are as follows:

  • The decision “to look at the gender identity information line” was made without consultation with the Charities to be removed, or their service users who may have found their services through the Action Line pages.
  • The decision to decide one way or another about taking the Charities’ names off Action Line was done also without consultation with affected parties.
  • As a result of the lack of consultation, there has been no opportunity to respond, give context to or view in the round the above referenced “audience complaints”. This gives us grave concerns that these complaints are providing a skewed and partial view of the area in which the Charities work, and do not speak to the need for their services to be signposted.
  • As referenced above, this decision is against a backdrop of increasingly inaccurate and harmful representation of trans lives in the British Media. This has resulted in hateful and transphobic attitudes being expressed more in the mainstream media as well as on social media. Such a backdrop makes our services – such as support for young people and their families – more necessary than ever.

Duty of Impartiality

As listed above, we are deeply troubled that the BBC has, without consultation with those immediately affected, removed the Charities due to complaints. To the public viewing the Gender Identity and LGBT pages, this signals a deliberate removal of authority and approval of the Charities, as well as the support they could provide to trans people in need of help. This is in direct contravention of the BBC’s duty of impartiality, as set out in the Royal Charter. The first public purpose is:

“To provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them: the BBC should provide duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of all parts of the UK and of the wider world.” (Article 6 (1))

The Charities are facing an increasingly toxic and hostile public dialogue around trans lives. They work to support their service users through this toxicity and hostility every day. It has been suggested that this dialogue has made the listing of the Charities a complex matter. We cannot see the complexity. All the Charities are dedicated to upholding the rights of this vulnerable population who are currently facing public humiliation and deliberate misinformation more than ever. That population make up a proportion of your readership and viewers.

We are troubled that trans people are the only ones whose access to support has been reduced. Even more so that the action has taken place within an opaque process. We respectfully suggest that this is a wrong turn for the BBC’s Editorial Policy Department and we must express the view that the recent conduct around the support page should mark the beginning of an important discussion between our organisations and the BBC, not an end.

Our concern is not to balance the views of the complainers with those who need support and help, but to uphold those people’s access to help and support at the same level as non-trans people, despite those who would complain about trans access to support. It is, after all, trans people’s democratic right not to be discriminated against. It is also the BBC’s imperative not to merely arbitrate between complaints and the fundamental rights of those affected are engaged. As the BBC’s own Editorial Guidelines set out:

“Due impartiality usually involves more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints. We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring that the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected. It does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles, such as the right to vote, freedom of expression and the rule of law.” (4.1)

To be clear, opposition to transphobia is a fundamental democratic principle, reflected, for example, in the fact that those who “are proposing to undergo, [are] undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex” are protected under the Equality Act 2010.

We accept mistakes can be made and we only wish to highlight the wrong turn above at this time. We do so in the sincere expectation that the BBC will reinstate these organisations onto the gender identity or LBGT page. This will remedy the above issues of discrimination to trans viewers and listeners and help those in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales to be signposted towards specialist support.

If the organisations are not reinstated, then the above opaque decision-making process is simply inadequate and highly damaging to the BBC’s reputation for impartiality and considered decision-making. As a starting point, we ask for the right to respond to the complaints which led to the decision and a meeting to discuss the decision making process in more detail and, specifically, how the BBC can meet its legal duties towards trans viewers under equality law.

We write this as a public letter because the conduct in question is a matter of public importance.

Yours sincerely,

Susie Green, CEO – Mermaids

Nancy Kelley, CEO – Stonewall

Natasha Walker & Peter Zacaroli, Co-Chairs – Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline

Dr Jay Stewart, CEO – Gendered Intelligence

Shaan Surat R Knan, Chair – GIRES

Nicola Doran, Director – Sail NI

Paul Roberts, Chief Executive – LGBT+ Consortium

Hugh Fell, Chair of Trustees – Family and Friends of Lesbian and Gays

John O’Doherty, Director – The Rainbow Project

Paul Martin, Chief Executive – LGBT Foundation