The False Impartiality of Debating Transgender Rights

The BBC has a problem with false impartiality in some of its reporting, and its coverage of transgender activism is no exception

As a journalist, one tries their best to abide by a set of values, like truth and public interest. Perhaps one of the more significant of these values is impartiality; the importance placed on portraying an issue or scenario as realistically as possible, taking into account the players in that issue and the weight that each of these sides have in it.

Sometimes, this can be challenging. Especially in a 24-hour, social media age that demands the latest news as quickly as is possible – not a negative thing, in fact it’s a very desirable circumstance. But this methodology will at occasion leave impartiality at the wayside, in favour of a balance not truly representative of the matter at hand.

Perhaps the most important epicenter of this phenomenon as someone living in the UK is the BBC. Other news outlets with a clearer bias, like the tabloid press here and Fox News across the Atlantic, experience this too, but in a deliberate fashion. The BBC, however, strives to be a bastion of objective and unbiased reporting on truth. Which, while admirable, is not always the case, and there have been a number of instances in which a false impartiality has been executed.

We’ve seen it in climate change debate, where on a number of occasions, the BBC staged debates on outlets like Radio 4 between climate scientists and climate change deniers as if both of these viewpoints held equal weight, despite much of the scientific community outweighing the other in support of man-made climate change existing as a phenomenon. And in Brexit, where many of the Leave campaign’s bold claims were in fact found to be falsehoods, the BBC reported on them without fact-checking or challenge.

We’re now seeing this phenomenon with the transgender community. As discussion surrounding big political moves like a reform of the Gender Recognition Act are underway, trans people are being invited onto BBC TV channels, radio stations and in articles to be interviewed about who we are and what we want. The issue therein is that we will go on to be pitted against right-wingers and trans-exclusionary radical feminists alike, debating our rights and often our very existence as if we’re the next hot topic.

Like climate change and like Brexit, the fight for our rights and dignities that we have so desperately sought for centuries has been falsely framed as a debate with two sides of equal weight. There is, however, another significant aspect ignored by this frame; the balance of power.

Like other minority groups, the transgender community is fighting against a system inherently designed against us; built into the very foundations of the structures of our society, and ingrained in the cultural assumptions that exist within it. The cards are stacked against us to an unimaginable degree, with little support available to us but from each other. To portray our struggle and those which we struggle against as on an equal footing, let alone as morally-indistinguishable, is not only a great disservice, but also in line with the oppressive status quo.

Trans-exclusionary radical feminists will claim that we trans people are in the position of power; that the continued affording of rights to us in society will benefit the patriarchy, shifting away the focus on fighting for women’s rights and putting women in danger if self-identification becomes an option for us. But in doing so, they uphold the values of the patriarchy; a system that seeks to enforce the binary of gender and purports a biological inferiority in women. This is the same biological essentialism that TERFs claim uphold them as the “true feminists.” And it’s the same biological essentialism that we’re assaulted by, from the patriarchy that systematically upholds it, and from the bigots that deludedly believe it is their salvation.

It’s false to portray what’s happening here as a reasonable debate with equally-invested sides presenting well-intended arguments for and against. Quite the opposite; the situation as it stands is on one side, a group of people who are fighting for progress that is both essential for their well being and inseparable from their existence. And on the other, a large and imposing oppositional force, fabricating loose threats and using their excess of power to enforce their bigotry and crush dissent.

The BBC have corrected themselves in the past. After the backlash from their climate change debates, they adopted an official stance that “there is broad scientific agreement on climate change.” And while the critique they received over their coverage of Brexit continues, they do appear to be observing the whole situation with more scrutiny than before. But it’s only after complaint, backlash, and criticism that the BBC have made these changes and reevaluated these stances.

So, make your voices heard; let it be known that the way they are treating us cannot continue, that they need to change and improve like they have done before. And don’t limit it to the BBC; news organisations and media outlets universally need to improve their coverage of transgender issues. And after enough shouting, they will.