Last year the BBC commissioned Professor Richard Sambrook to review the online behaviour of programmes and staff as part of ongoing work on the issue of impartiality. Although the Sambrook report has not yet been published, the BBC’s new Director-General, Tim Davie, recently issued new guidelines on individual use of social media by BBC staff.
Impartiality is a core principle of the BBC. In this post we look at the issue of impartiality specifically regarding transgender politics and the subject of children with gender dysphoria, in particular when it is directed to children and young people themselves.
The recent decision by the BBC to drop Mermaids and other trans lobby groups from their Advice Line service on gender dysphoria was welcomed by many people as an acknowledgment by the BBC that they need to be neutral in this area. The replacement of Mermaids with a link to the NHS information page was a move away from a highly controversial charity whose approach may encourage children towards medical interventions that are currently under such a high level of scrutiny.
The BBC itself has played no small part in raising public awareness of serious concerns regarding medical intervention for children at the Tavistock Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), through several excellent recent Newsnight investigations.
These reports have covered the investigation into the puberty blockers trial (July 2019), people who regret their medical transition (November 2019), staff welfare concerns outlined in the David Bell report that were ‘shut down’ (June 2020) and the revelation that staff safeguarding concerns date back more than a decade (October 2020).
The BBC has also reported on the legal challenge brought by ex-Tavistock psychiatric nurse Sue Evans against the Tavistock over the prescribing of puberty blockers to children, interviewed Keira Bell, one of the claimants in the case, and covered the first day of the hearing in the High Court. One issue that has come up in relation to the Tavistock puberty blocker trial is the pressure exerted by the charity Mermaids to lower the age at which blockers are offered.
So it is disappointing to see the contrast in how the BBC presents this issue to children and young people themselves. There is a glaring disconnect between the disturbing evidence of Newsnight and the uncritical promotion of the language and ideas of the transgender lobby to children. On the one hand we see the clear dangers of the politicisation of childhood gender dysphoria and on the other we see unadulterated activist transgender politics pushed onto children and young people, often under the guise of kindness, acceptance and inclusion.
The latest example was from BBC Bitesize who published this article to promote #InternationalPronounsDay.
“Everyone deserves to feel included, and normalising conversations around gender and how people would like to be addressed is a good way to show your friends you respect who they are.”
The BBC presents the use of people’s preferred pronouns as a way to be “an ally” and to make people feel “accepted”. What young person would be horrible enough not to want to do that?
Mermaids also teaches the new rules on pronoun use:
Clearly, if you want to make the words ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ meaningless you must also destroy the meaning of ‘he’ and ‘she’ pronouns. This is why political lobby groups such as Stonewall (linked in the BBC article) insist that it causes no harm to you, it is just a way of being ‘inclusive’ and helping people feel valid.
The ‘be kind’ message is disingenuous when Stonewall casts non-compliance with its dictate to use someone’s preferred pronouns even when they’re not there as ‘transphobic’.
“TRANSPHOBIC LANGUAGE EXAMPLES:
Terms of abuse, including ‘tranny’, ‘he-she’, referring to a trans person as ‘it’ or deliberately misnaming or misgendering them (using the wrong pronoun when referring to them in conversation)”
So it’s not about being kind; you don’t have a choice. You’d better check people’s pronouns and then use the ones they prefer, otherwise you could get reported to the police for hate speech.
Through this new pronoun education children learn that although the words ‘he’ and ‘she’ refer to the male and the female of every animal species, this is not the case for human beings. Getting children to routinely check people’s pronouns is getting them to doubt their judgment or their right to recognise and name people as male or female. It also demands that children, through their words, recognise that pronouns do not grammatically relate to nouns, but refer to inner personal feelings we can’t see. Their grammatical function is validation of those feelings.
Getting people to willingly follow their new language dictates is a central demand of the trans lobby; it is so important that pronouns have their own International Day with its own website.
The BBC Bitesize item is manipulating children to promote a political idea through their use of language, without their understanding and therefore consent. There are obvious and serious safeguarding implications in the message to children that they should ignore the evidence of their own eyes in order to be ‘kind’. The BBC went one step further and illustrated this idea with an image of people of different sexes sharing a changing-room. Clearly this is not about being kind; children are being manipulated.
Another idea of Mermaids the BBC is happy to promote to children is the existence of a multiplicity of genders. BBC Teach provides a resource for primary schools ‘Understanding sexual and gender identities’ where a child asks the question “How many gender identities are there?” The answer comes:
“D’you know, there are SO many different gender identities! So we know we’ve got male and female, but there are OVER a hundred, if not more, gender identities…”
Mermaids tells us that there are in fact 8 billion genders:
The BBC lesson teaches children that ‘male’ and ‘female’ are not biological categories that are objectively real, but internal feelings. Mermaids in their tweet accidentally reveals that when they say ‘gender’ they really mean ‘personality’; every human being is different. Both Mermaids and the BBC are misleading children to believe that ‘gender identity’ is an inner feeling that determines which sex you are.
To confuse children about sex and make them lose confidence in their own perceptions of reality is not a lesson designed for the benefit of children.
The BBC has also uncritically promoted the Mermaids approach to young children in documentaries and dramas. In November 2014 the documentary I am Leo was first broadcast on the CBBC channel aimed at 6 – 12 year-olds, and has since been repeated several times. We wrote about it here (the video has since been taken down). This documentary teaches children that it’s possible to have a boy’s brain in a girl’s body; that if a girl ‘feels like’ a boy, she really is a boy.
The evidence presented in this documentary is that Leo didn’t like having long hair and wearing dresses as a child, and preferred playing with ‘boys’ toys.’ When older, Leo still believes that if you are a girl you have to wear a dress. There is no adult on hand to explain to Leo that it’s absolutely fine for a girl to have short hair, wear trousers and be obsessed with football and gaming. The message to every girl watching is that these things make you a boy.
The scene where Leo meets up with another ‘transgender boy’ illustrates how far we have regressed in terms of gender stereotyping. In the Seventies, two girls with short hair playing football together in the park and chatting about how much they hate dresses would have been completely unremarkable. Hatred of your female body (which is ‘awful’ according to Leo) is also unfortunately not an uncommon feeling for teenage girls. It is only now that girls have these feelings affirmed as correct.
This was the documentary that promoted early medical transition to children and minimised the seriousness of intervention with puberty blockers (in the words of Polly Carmichael, Director of the Tavistock GIDS, simply “a pause button”). It did more than any other programme to normalise the idea that doctors can help you to actually change sex if you feel uncomfortable in the sex you were born – as many girls do.
On April 5th 2015 Louis Theroux ‘Transgender Kids’ was broadcast on BBC 2. On April 7th 2015 a documentary about ‘transgender children’, featuring 8 year-old ‘Jessica’ and 6 year-old ‘Lily’, two little boys who enjoy playing with dolls and wearing dresses, was broadcast on Victoria Derbyshire Live. The full documentary was broadcast on BBC News here. (This was followed up in May 2016 and we wrote about it here.)
In the space of five months up to April 2015 the BBC had promoted the idea of children being ‘transgender’ on primetime, daytime and children’s t.v. The Tavistock GIDS publishes its annual referral figures from April – April. 2015 – 16 was the year that saw the huge spike in referrals – an increase of 104% on the year before. There were many factors leading to this, but the BBC certainly played its part in promoting the idea to a mass audience, including children themselves, that if you don’t like toys or clothes stereotypical for your sex, you are ‘transgender’ – which means you are really the opposite sex.
There was consternation about this unprecedented rise in referrals to the Tavistock, but the BBC continued with its promotion of the idea you could really be the opposite sex to child viewers of the CBBC channel. Just a Girl, broadcast in September 2016, was a story presented as a cool video diary of a ‘girl’ who just happened to be male.
And despite the recent serious and increasing concerns about the number of children undergoing medical transition, the BBC has recently broadcast a 4-part transgender school drama mini-series imported from Australia, First Day, screened in August and September. This drama promotes perhaps the strongest political message yet, directed at girls at a time when there is huge controversy around transgender policies leading to the erosion of women and girls’ sex-based rights and protections in law.
The drama centres on a boy called Thomas who identifies as a girl called Hannah. Children are expected to accept and believe that this means Thomas/Hannah really is a girl. A typical 6 – 12 year-old watching a drama on a trusted children’s tv channel is unlikely to have developed the skills of critical analysis necessary to unpick all the manipulation in this story, although they may feel uncomfortable and anxious about some of its messages.
First Day repeats exactly the same storyline as Just a Girl: a boy starts secondary school ‘in stealth’ as a girl (a common suggestion in transgender schools guidance), the school does everything possible to hide the fact that he’s really a boy, he gets found out by the bully who ‘outs’ him, the boy is supported and defended by girls, the bullies get their come-uppance, and the boy is celebrated as a girl by everyone in the school. This is presented as ‘accepting difference’. Both dramas play on the very real fears of children when they move up to secondary school: that they may not fit in and be accepted by their peers, they might get bullied and have no friends.
There are other parallels: in both dramas a boy shows an interest in someone he believes to be a girl before the child is ‘outed’ as a boy. The issue of deception is not raised (Hannah explains to a friend that it’s not about ‘secrecy’ but ‘privacy’). What of the boy’s feelings? He has been duped, publicly, in front of his mates, at an age when feelings of humiliation are easily triggered. How does this affect his security in his own sexual orientation? How will it affect his future trust in girls?
The drama is essentially a propaganda training video for girls on how to correctly respond to a boy who identifies as a girl in order to secure approval rather than ostracisation from the peer group (an adolescent’s worst fear). The girl whose mother won’t let her play with Hannah is easily discarded from the friendship group by the other girls and portrayed thereafter as miserable and lonely. The girls in the drama function only as props – devoid of any human needs, rights or legitimate feelings of their own – to serve and act as caretakers to the boy and bring him into being as a girl.
Hannah cannot define himself as a girl according to the criteria of being a young human female, so the girls must redefine themselves in Hannah’s image by reducing themselves: hiding their femaleness, along with female-specific needs and rights.
When one girl starts her period and another reassures her that she has brought enough menstrual products ‘for every girl on camp’ she must later apologise to Hannah for her insensitivity. “You don’t have to worry about getting your period” she tells Hannah and Hannah says “I kind of wish I did”, sowing the seeds of the idea of ‘cis privilege’ in children’s minds and teaching girls that they must be careful in talking about female biological functions in case it hurts or offends. From here it’s a simple step to get girls to accept the term ‘menstruators’, all the ground is being laid.
The girls don’t go swimming during summer camp – even though they were really looking forward to it – because Hannah is uncomfortable; there’s a danger that swimming costumes might reveal the difference between the sexes. When they do eventually go it is Hannah’s decision and all the girls wear the same baggy swim shorts as Hannah to hide the difference.
After Hannah has been ‘outed’, we learn that the girls have campaigned to allow Hannah to use the girls’ toilets. Throughout the four episodes the message is drummed home to all girls watching: it is only the ‘transgender girl’ whose feelings are important. At no point are girls considered to have any legitimate needs and feelings of their own.
The child who plays the part of Hannah is a 14 year-old actor who therefore must be taking puberty blockers in order to still ‘pass’ as a girl. What happens when the other girls at school start to develop breasts and hips while Hannah remains a child? How long can the pretence continue as the girls develop sexually and grow and mature into young women? This seems to be a cruel way for all children involved (including Hannah) to learn that sex matters, however much you try to deny it or hide it.
In these dramas the BBC withholds from girls any knowledge of their sex-based rights. Girls are taught that they must willingly deny the female sex; that the word ‘girl’ itself may be hurtful when linked to the female sex, but not when associated with the male sex. They must acknowledge that boys are girls but not that people who menstruate are girls. Girls are represented solely as caretakers in all these programmes (even Leo is shown surrounded by three supportive girls).
In a study published this year (Pang et al 2020) a ‘significant positive correlation’ was found between media coverage of transgender issues and referral rates of children to two specialist gender clinics, in the UK and Australia, over an 8 year period (January 2009 – December 2016). Over this time there were 2,194 media items in the UK and 4,684 referrals to the Tavistock GIDS. In Australia the number of media items was 420 and the number of referrals was 558.
Correlation is not the same as causation but it’s not a wild claim to say that media influences, and it especially influences children. The issue may be seen as positive – children are getting the help they need (indeed, the report’s authors, although nodding to concerns that children may be accessing medical intervention they later come to regret, display a positive view of the role of media influence). We would concur if children were learning about gender dysphoria and how to get support for their feelings of distress, but this is not the message from the BBC.
The BBC is teaching children that if a boy ‘identifies’ as a girl, he IS a girl, literally. These programmes do not teach children that discomfort with your sex can have many explanations, or encourage children’s understanding if a classmate is experiencing such discomfort. Rather, dramas like First Day and Just a Girl cynically use children’s natural compassion to promote a controversial political message – “trans women ARE women”. To go along with this rule is to be kind, to go against it is to be a bully.
Impartiality at the BBC
The new guidelines on individual use of social media by programmes and people who work at the BBC are welcome and will hopefully prevent the kind of careless wording suggestive of bias in tweets like this:
But why is it that the BBC has done so much to promote the idea of ‘transgender kids’ in the first place? The BBC apparently has over 400 transgender staff (about four times higher than the proportion in the population at large). ‘Transgender’ of course can mean anything from a transvestite or cross-dresser to a man who thinks he’s a woman on Tuesdays and a man on Wednesdays; it does not indicate specialist knowledge of children with gender dysphoria.
But how far do the political views of staff influence what is programmed and what is not? We know how much any debate on this subject is silenced in wider society and how afraid people are to be accused of ‘transphobia’. BBC staff are people too and not immune to the pressures to keep silent on an issue this controversial.
The two organisations which have had the biggest influence on the media in the UK are Trans Media Watch, a charity co-founded in 2010 by Liberal Democrat Helen Belcher, and All About Trans, a project launched in 2011, run by the charity On Road Media and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation among others.
All About Trans developed a method for engagement which they call an ‘Interaction’: a relaxed social meet-up with senior media professionals. They claim to have met with around 360 media and sector professionals this way. The level of funding, the confidence it takes to put on such social events and the willingness of senior professionals in the media to listen is quite remarkable in the case of a community that claims to be so marginalised. Ambassadors include trans activist Paris Lees.
In late 2011/early 2012 All About Trans organised three workshops at the BBC and Channel 4, including a ‘Trans Camp’ in 2012, a day dedicated to “exploring creative solutions to major stumbling blocks in the media’s portrayal of this misrepresented and misunderstood community.” Participants were split into groups to explore 5 main issues. Number 1 was “There is very little awareness of the existence of trans children. How do we change that?”
Contributing to this event was none other than Mermaids’ CEO Susie Green, together with Jackie Green who underwent genital surgery at age 16 in Thailand, an operation that is illegal in the UK for under 18’s (and is now illegal in Thailand too). So the BBC was trained right from the start by the most extreme parent in the UK in terms of her beliefs and the medical intervention she sought for her own child. Watching the video, it seems that otherwise the event was dominated by older male transsexuals.
In the summer of 2014, All About Trans held an Interaction with CBeebies and CBBC, attended by Joe Godwin, Head of BBC Children’s, who then went on to chair a second social event in September of that year.
The charm offensive strategy of All About Trans has been very effective. The BBC cannot be faulted for a willingness to meet with groups to discuss their representation, but the role of the BBC is not to promote any one political agenda. To be clear: the political aim of the trans activist movement is nothing less than to redefine men and women in legislation and social policy as ‘gender identities’, erasing biological sex and replacing it with self-declared feelings.
Teaching children to use ‘preferred pronouns’, telling them there are over 100 gender identities and encouraging them to believe that boys are really girls is trans activism. The BBC’s output for children could have been written by Stonewall or Mermaids. The BBC has unwittingly promoted political dogma to children as a neutral truth, acting as the media arm of a powerful lobby with a political agenda in conflict with the rights of women and girls. The harms of this ideology to children are in plain sight, not least through the excellent work of BBC Newsnight and the case of Keira Bell.
In coverage of this issue for children it must be recognised that ‘children with gender dysphoria’ is a neutral description but ‘transgender children’ is not; it is a political idea that redefines gender non-conforming children according to adult beliefs held by a politically-motivated minority. To call a child ‘transgender’ depends on a fixed idea of gendered stereotypes circa 1950, ideas which by now should have been consigned to the history bin.
Tim Davie has taken a stand to reinforce a fundamental founding principle of the BBC: impartiality. We hope that the BBC will recognise that nowhere is this core principle more critical than in its information and programming for children.