BBC Radio 4 has been criticised for hosting a debate on transgender issues with three cisgender men.
On Tuesday’s edition of Today, presenter Justin Webb spoke to Stonewall co-founder Simon Fanshawe and PinkNews CEO Benjamin Cohen separately about Stonewall, after it emerged that a number of schools including University College London and University of Winchester chose not to continue their membership of the LGBTQ+ rights organisations’ Diversity Champions Programme.
Webb raised a criticism made of Stonewall by Dr Kathleen Stock, professor of philosophyy at the University of Sussex, who accused the organisation of ‘offences against equality law, women’s rights and common sense’, and he questioned whether there was a ‘media campaign against Stonewall and against the rights of trans people to live free of harassment’.
First on the programme was Simon Fanshawe, who helped found Stonewall in 1989 and is a gay cisgender man.
Fanshawe said: ‘The important thing would be to achieve a situation where trans people can live in a world which is fair and without discrimination and a world where women can have access to the services and the spaces and the sports for which they fought for so long – women’s only spaces, services and sports.
‘The problem I think is Stonewall has embarked on a course of action which is essentially divisive, because what they’ve said is they’re campaigning for self-ID to be the basis of the law.’
Accusing Stonewall of calling anybody who says that sex is binary of being bigoted, he continued: ‘The reason these people are leaving the scheme is not because they don’t want to treat people trans people decently, not because they don’t want to treat lesbian and gays decently in their companies and organisations, but because the advice that Stonewall is giving is the advice they want the law to be, not the law as it is, so they’re damaging their credibility, but worse than that, they’re giving advice which divides people against each other within these organisations.’
Webb suggested that the number of women harmed by trans people is ‘tiny’ while the ‘the amount of attention we give to it is huge’, with Fanshawe saying this was ‘not a good argument’, claiming there are ‘implications’ to trans women being allowed in women’s spaces and saying: ‘Safe-guarding is about the worst situation not the best situation.’
Benjamin Cohen – who is also a gay cisgender man – then joined the programme, and pointed out that no trans voices were on the show.
He said: ‘The BBC has instead decided to have a debate with two different gay people talking about trans issues, and it’s quite odd. I’m a cisgender man, I’m not transgender, Simon is also not transgender, you’re not transgender. Once again, it’s a debate about trans issues without a single trans voice being heard.’
Webb said: ‘You don’t know anything about me’ and demanded that Cohen answer his question about women campaigning for those who have transitioned being banned from single-sex spaces.
Cohen continued to ask: ‘Is this a debate about trans issues with no trans voices?’ and said that there has been no changes in accessibility to single-sex spaces since the introduction of the Equality Act in 2010.
He also said that Stonewall were not campaigning for safe spaces not to be women only.
Stonewall did not contribute to the Today segment, but when giving evidence to the Women and Equalities Commission in March 2021, Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley said: ‘It is really important to say that we do not advocate for the removal of the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act. When the Equality Act was first introduced, Stonewall did. That was because we were worried that they would be applied in a really blanket way and would be used to wholesale exclude trans women from many single-sex spaces. We know now that that has not been the case.’
In 2015, Stonewall was still calling for these exemptions to be removed.
The absence of any trans voices or women in a discussion about women’s rights and trans issues was noticed by many listeners, with writer James Felton tweeting: ‘BBC Radio 4 showing their commitment to single sex spaces this morning by having three cis men debate trans rights during pride month.’
Kathy Burke also criticised Webb’s handling of the interview, tweeting: ‘Anyway, my point was, if you’re told that you should include a trans person when discussing trans rights you shouldn’t get the hump about it.’
A spokesperson from the BBC told Metro.co.uk: ‘The item was about the increasing number of organisations discontinuing their membership of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme as opposed to a broader discussion about trans and women’s rights issues. Stonewall turned down an invitation to appear on the programme. Mr Cohen was invited on as a representative with a connection to Stonewall and someone who broadly supports them. In all coverage we work to ensure a range of views and perspectives.’
Stonewall has said that it and other supporters of LGBTQ+ equality have been ‘facing attack for a number of years for taking a trans-inclusive approach to fighting for equality’.
Speaking to The Telegraph about their withdrawal from the Diversity Champions Programme, a rep for UCL said that they were redirecting spending ‘towards internal equality, diversity and inclusion activity’, while a spokesperson for Winchester said their decision was for cost-saving reasons and was ‘nothing to do with the current trans issues driving others to withdraw from Stonewall’.