‘Levels of violence against trans people “offend the human conscience”, says UN rights expert’.
This was the headline on a 25 October press release by Victor Madrigal-Borloz. He is the United Nations Independent Expert for protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Given the UK media’s ferocious interest in transgender issues, you would imagine that it might have been headline news? Or at least referenced in one of the numerous articles churned out by the national press in their quest for a ‘transgender debate’ in the run-up to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) consultation deadline?
But no. Not one single publication in the UK mentioned it. Was it that journalist’s consciences were ‘offended’ so much that they couldn’t even bring themselves to write about violence against transgender people, or was something else at play?
It was a week that brought transgender issues to the fore, with the news that Donald Trump was ‘erasing’ trans people in America, and the GRA Consultation was coming to a close in the UK.
You would think that the statement from the UN, an internationally respected body on human rights, that ‘the vast majority of trans and gender-diverse persons in the world do not have access to gender recognition by the State and live in a legal vacuum where stigma and prejudice create a climate that tacitly permits, encourages and rewards with impunity acts of violence and discrimination against them’ would have featured heavily given its relevance?
Yet, despite such a prominent and respected organisation providing such devastating claims, the UK news media remained silent.
So what happened?
The reality is that the end of October marked the end of an 18 month campaign by a small group of individuals on a mission to roll-back trans rights – all dressed up as ‘concern for women’s protections’ in response to the GRA consultation.
While the hostilities initially started on social media platforms, by the end of the year-long government consultation process, anti-trans articles were appearing at alarming frequency in national news platforms and broadcast media. Campaigning ‘feminist’ groups scoured the country trying to recruit women to their trans-hostile ideological cause.
A small number of visible trans people, family members and disparate supporters stood in the way of this barrage of relentless misinformation and demands for ‘debate’, backed up by a handful of LGBT organisations like Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence and Mermaids.
Dubbed ‘trans rights activists’ and accused of ‘silencing’, the reality was far from that splashed across the front pages of national newspapers.
In fact, the majority of articles in the UK news media over the last 18 months have been predominantly negative about trans people and those who support them.
With headlines such as ‘Trans extremists are putting equality at risk’ and ‘Feminist poster banned because it “could offend trans people”‘, some news platforms tripped over themselves to seek out stories to undermine and demonise trans people and their allies.
With only the occasional neutral or positive article thrown in for the appearance of ‘balance’, the ‘modus operandi’ for journalists had become one of ‘kicks for clicks’ in overtly or subtly attacking trans people. In this environment, it’s no surprise that any trans-positive voice – even that of the UN – was overlooked.
While the statement by the UN and accompanying report talked about overt aggression, discrimination and hostility towards transgender communities around the world, it is clear that the media narrative around the transgender community has a part to play in the public’s general understanding of trans people.
Contrary to the disproportionately large number of news articles, the trans population in the UK is still very small, so the likelihood that the public will come into contact in any meaningful way with a trans person, is relatively unlikely.
This gives the media a huge amount of power over how trans people are portrayed and understood by the UK population.
The US steps up
This anti-trans bias in the UK press was brought into stark relief last week when the US branch of the Guardian Newspaper called out its UK counterpart for their reporting of trans issues.
With their editorial column, ‘Why we take issue with the Guardian’s stance on trans rights in the UK‘ it became the first mainstream news publication that published an article explicitly in support of trans people for many months.
While it is a shame that it has taken a major news platform outside of the UK to shine a spotlight on the lack of support for transgender people within the UK media, hopefully more powerful voices will now follow.
As Madrigal-Borloz stated, ‘breaking these cycles of violence will require the awareness of the community of nations, and their resolve to fulfil their duties to protect the lives of trans and gender-diverse persons’.
For that ‘awareness’ to begin, there first needs to be media platforms within the UK willing to carry the voices of trans people, for without access to these, trans people will continue to be silenced.
@mimmymum is a cis woman, and friend to the UK trans community.