Dear BBC Upper Management and Editorial Staff,
The day this open letter is being written (26th October 2022), you published an article on the BBC News website by Caroline Lowbridge titled ‘We’re being pressured into sex by some trans women’
The article headline may use the word ‘some’, but the clear implication of the article and its headline is that transgender women as a minority group pose a threat to cisgender lesbians, and should therefor have their rights restricted in the UK.
The implications proposed by this article suggest that transgender women generally pose a risk to cisgender lesbians in great enough numbers that it is newsworthy, and something the general public should consider as a common occurrence rather than a matter of incredibly rare, isolated experiences.
The article uses a deeply flawed study that doesn’t meet BBC guidelines, and anecdotal accounts from known transphobic hate groups who actively campaign for transgender people to lose their legal recognition as their gender.
The article is based on a single self selected study of 80 individuals sourced from Get The L Out, a group who, prior to the survey, were already united by anti-trans views.
The group that was surveyed already believe transgender women are men, and should be prohibited from legal recognition as women/access to female gendered spaces out of fear that access will cause cis women to be sexually assaulted.
This study breaks the BBC’s own guidelines about using surveys as sources for claims in coverage, as it is self selected, with a small sample size and a clear bias held by those self selected to respond.
Additionally, the article itself acknowledges that outside of this small sample size self selected study there is basically no evidence for the claim that this is happening in any sort of numbers that would justify generalising this as a widespread experience.
The article dangerously frames this as a widespread issue, whilst simultaneously acknowledging that there is no actual evidence to that effect outside of isolated claims and cherry picked individual cases. You cite a more than 50% figure from Get the L Out’s survey result, with the implication being that most cis lesbians will have experienced coercion into sex by a trans woman, in the same article as the below quote.
‘Ultimately, it has been difficult to determine the true scale of the problem because there has been little research on this topic – only one survey to my knowledge’.
And this quote comes directly from the perspective of the survey’s organiser: ‘While acknowledging the sample may not be representative of the wider lesbian community, she believes it was important to capture their ‘points of view and stories’.
The article itself routinely implies that transgender women are not women, uncritically quoting people who call transgender women men without at any point clarifying that this is ignoring their legal status as women in the UK.
The article also references the phrase Gold Star Lesbian in this piece, a term used to shame lesbians who have ever interacted with men sexually.
The term implies a hierarchy of lesbianism, where someone who for example has slept with a man while trying to discover their identity and later recognises they are a lesbian is less of a lesbian than someone who never slept with a man. It’s an exclusionist badge of honour used to gatekeep people out of lesbian identity who took some time to get there.
In the context of this piece, the cited porn actress claims they do not want to sleep with a transgender woman, because they ‘have only ever slept with women’.
In the context of the gold star nickname, this implies that they, again, inherently do not see transgender women as women.
The issue is not posed as them not wanting to sleep with someone with a penis, but that they see the transgender woman as a man, and that they would be less of a lesbian for sleeping with them.
This again reinforces the idea that ‘true lesbians’ don’t sleep with transgender women, a fact which is not accurate.
Nowhere in this piece do you speak to any cisgender lesbians who are attracted to transgender women, giving readers the impression that all lesbians are of the opinion that transgender women are not women.
The article also cites LGB Alliance. This group has registered charity status in the UK, but appears to be breaking the charity commission’s rules for behaviour and conduct of a UK charity.
The LGB Alliance has a proven track record of focusing primarily on gender identity and transgender issues, for example their recent LGB Alliance Conference on 21st October 2021 advertised a timetable of four panels, three of which focused on transgender topics and/or were being hosted by known anti-trans activists (the final fourth panel appeared to just be a closer).
The group does has not shown any evidence of campaigning for LGB (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual) issues such as halting LGB conversion therapy, addressing LGB hate crimes or tackling the high level of homelessness in the LGB community.
Rather, they have been known to be both actively biphobic and discriminatory towards the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
Some of the people cited in this article who claim that they were called anti-trans for refusing to sleep with a transgender woman are actually very vocal online about wanting to see rights reversed and removed for the transgender community, showing a clear history of bias. In many cases, those interviewed in this article have deliberately misrepresented why people view them as anti-trans.
‘Debbie Hayton has been accused of propagating hate speech against the trans community, despite being trans herself.’
The article does not elaborate further on this statement, but Debbie Hayton is one of the few transgender people you allow to speak for the piece.
Debbie is a transgender person who is very well known for being willing to stand by the views of the anti-trans community, saying what they and those platforming them want to hear refusing to let the march go ahead until they were allowed to lead at the front of the march, handing out fliers claiming that transgender women should be banned from women’s spaces and be stripped of legal recognition, because they are all potential rapists.
They also screamed transphobic obscenities at anyone holding a transgender flag watching the march, deliberately misgendered those with transgender pride flags, and threatened police involvement on any transgender people who were provoked by their bigotted actions.
This is an example of the kinds of groups that you, the BBC, are citing in this article. You are citing groups with an incredibly strong anti-trans bias.
The survey results come from a group who believe transgender people should not feel safe at Pride, and should have to face misgendering, slurs, and claims that they are rapists. This is not an unbiased source.
We do not dispute the claim that there are likely isolated cases of cisgender lesbians who have been pressured in the past into sex by transgender women who viewed their genital preference as transphobic, however to paint this as a widespread occurrence, or the norm, is incredibly dangerous.
It is obviously a tragedy any time any person is coerced into sex and their consent violated, but the answer to that is not to paint an entire minority group as potential rapists.
This article feels very reminiscent of media coverage of gay people using public bathrooms in decades past, suggesting that the experiences or fears of a small group of individuals should justify the media’s implication that gay people are a sexual assault risk in bathrooms (a claim that was, in fact, shown to be fearmongering based on lies, and the huge risk they encounter when revealing their transgender status to partners.
Most transgender women are genuinely terrified of violence if they reveal their transgender status and accidently anger their partner at that moment.
Transgender women are not in the habit of revealing that they have a penis as a surprise, alone with a partner, at the last moment before intimacy, because that is something that is incredibly dangerous, and puts them at great risk of violence.
In a wider context, there is a broad history of LGBTQ+ people of various backgrounds being accused of being sexual predators that this article plays into. Gay and lesbian people were accused of being bathroom predators by the media in the 80’s, bisexual people were accused of being sexual predators in the 90’s and 2000’s, and transgender people are right now being targetted very strongly in that same manner.
Most groups campaigning to restrict transgender rights in the UK recycle homophobic talking points near verbatim without evidence. Bathroom bills were introduced in the US because of fears that transgender people in bathrooms could lead to sex offences, despite there being no evidence that years of transgender people in bathrooms had caused any such crimes.
Those in the UK who campaign against Self-ID for transgender people use the argument that it will lead to an increase in sexual assaults, despite nothing of the such happening in any other country where Self-ID had been implemented.
Rare examples of sexual assaults by transgender people are held up as ‘evidence’ against every transgender person, to promote a clearly anti-trans agenda. This article plays into the idea that LGBTQ+ people are sexual predators, and that a handful of anecdotes is enough to paint an entire community with that brush.
Additionally, this article doesn’t only contain anti-trans disinformation and bigotry, but it also contains biphobic sentiments. The only Bisexual woman referenced in this piece, who is not named, is held up as the scary villain forcing a lesbian into sex that they do not want to consent to.
Considering that Get The L Out and LGB Alliance were heavily cited in this piece, this does not come as a surprise, as both groups have a history of disrespecting bisexual individuals.