Ahead of a controversial televised debate about gender on Tuesday, multiple transgender activists and allies have told PinkNews they have refused to take part.
As part of Genderquake, a series of programmes by Channel 4 exploring the changes in how gender is seen in modern society, the television channel will host a debate about gender and trans rights.
Genderquake: The Debate will feature trans activists Caitlyn Jenner and Munroe Bergdorf, as well as other speakers from a variety of viewpoints.
The debate will explore what gender identity is and whether it should be easier to change gender, as well as debating whether gender still matters in modern society.
Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor Shaminder Nahal stated the importance of the debate and wider discussions about gender.
In a statement, Nahal said: “This debate will stimulate important and insightful discussion with a wide variety of views from the panel and audience.
“Issues around gender now have a prominent position in the national conversation, with strong feeling on all sides.
“Channel 4 is well known for exploring challenging and emotive issues in a fair and balanced way and with this programme we want to help audiences understand and engage in these multi-faceted issues.”
On Monday, Channel 4 began their Genderquake series with a reality-style documentary about how young people see gender, which prompted outrage after a trans man was outed on the show.
However, there has been sharp criticism of Channel 4 for attempting to put the legitimacy of transgender people up for debate.
Dr. Adrian Harrop, an outspoken trans ally who was recently targeted on Twitter by Katie Hopkins, was originally interested in being involved in the debate and was offered a place on the programme by Channel 4.
However, after discussions with other trans activists and allies, Harrop declined the invitation with a letter published exclusively in full below.
After sending the letter, Harrop told PinkNews: “This debate is not about incorporating trans people into mainstream society and improving their lives and making sure they can access and engage with society on a meaningful level.
“This is a very basic debate around whether existing as a trans person is a valid, legitimate way to live one’s life.
“Similar to how we had debates in the early part of the twentieth century around whether being a gay person was a valid and legitimate way to live one’s life and whether it was acceptable or normal.
“If Channel 4 tried to host a debate about whether being gay was an acceptable way to live one’s life, can you imagine the uproar from that?
“Can you imagine the backlash on Channel 4 if they even dared to suggest that as a piece of programming?”
Harrop continued: “The issue is not whether trans people exist or whether trans people are valid legitimate human beings, the issue is how do we help trans people to live their best possible life and realise their potential and what do we need to do to make this happen?
“It’s an absurd debate, it’s absurd and outdated and antiquated conversation that I am not prepared to shed any legitimacy on. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Other trans activists have confirmed they were approached by the programme but declined to take part, including broadcaster India Willoughby and writer Shon Faye.
In an open letter to Channel 4, other campaigners including Fox Fisher, Owl, Susie Green, Travis Alabanza, and Jack Monroe criticised Channel 4 for hosting the debate, calling the programme “counterproductive.”
In response to this open letter, a Channel 4 spokesperson told PinkNews: “Our changing attitudes to gender and sexuality are some of the most hotly discussed subjects of our time and the Genderquake season sets out to explore these issues from a variety of different perspectives.
“With the Genderquake debate, we have sought to bring together a wide variety of voices – including inviting people from many organisations representing the trans community – to discuss the broad question of what gender means today in an open, fair and balanced way.
“Channel 4 is committed to providing space for debate and discussion about the big issues that are affecting society and giving the opportunity for viewers to be exposed to a range of different opinions.”
As well as the criticism regarding the nature of the debate itself, Channel 4 has faced significant backlash for including feminist author Germaine Greer as a debate panellist alongside Bergdorf and Jenner.
Greer has a history of inflammatory statements against transgender women, many of which deny their right to exist.
The 79-year-old author has previously compared transgender people to people who wish to become dogs.
“Just because you lop off your d**k and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a f***ing woman,” said Greer on the Victoria Derbyshire show in 2015.
She continued: “I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that doesn’t turn me into a f***ing cocker spaniel.
“A man who gets his d**k chopped off is actually inflicting an extraordinary act of violence on himself.”
Greer has also previously criticised her fellow debate participant Caitlyn Jenner, stating that while Jenner calls herself a woman, Greer did not accept her as one.
“Are we really interested in Caitlyn Jenner, honestly?” She said.
“You know, I don’t mind her calling herself a woman. I could call myself a Cocker Spaniel. I don’t think Cocker Spaniels would accept me if I did.”
Greer has also previously said that she does not ‘believe’ that transgender women who transition later in life are women.
“There are men who have been married and who have had children and who believe they’ve been women all along.
“I don’t believe them. Sorry, you can hold a knife to my throat. I don’t believe you.”
After the debate was announced, many people took to social media to criticise the channel for involving Greer.
Several Twitter users hit out at Channel 4 for providing Greer with a national platform to state her views, despite her record.
“Why the heck is Germaine Greer on this panel? STOP GIVING HER AIR TIME,” one user of the micro-blogging site said.
In response to Greer’s involvement in the panel, a Channel 4 spokesperson told PinkNews: “Channel 4 is committed to providing space for debate and discussion about the big issues that are affecting society – this debate will bring together a wide variety of views on gender to stimulate important and insightful discussion, helping audiences understand these multi-faceted issues.
“Germaine Greer has been regarded as a pioneering voice in feminism, whose work in this area has spanned nearly half a century.
“She will be one voice within this debate alongside a wide variety of views– including people from the trans community. All contributors will be held to account on their views by a rigorous and experienced presenter in an open, fair and balanced way.”
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Read Dr. Adrian Harrop’s full letter to Channel 4 and ITN Productions below:
“I have decided to turn down the opportunity to participate in the Genderquake debate on Tuesday.
“Having spoken to a number of friends and fellow trans advocates, it has become increasingly clear that the transgender community has rejected the basis of this debate, which seemingly has turned into more of an orchestrated, engineered battle between trans people and those who essentially deny their very existence.
“The time for debate around the existence and validity of trans people is over. Society and our collective understanding has moved on.
“Those continuing to deny this fundamental truth are, for the most part, members of an extremist and fanatical fringe, who seek out a platform to express their hatred and exclusionary views of trans people.
“As a society – and for me personally, as a doctor and as an LGBTQ+ activist – the conversation is now about how we better serve the needs and interests of trans people, who are amongst the most marginalised and disenfranchised individuals living in this country.
“We need to work together to advocate for the liberation of trans people, and to ensure that they can live free and fulfilling lives, and can achieve their immense potential.
“It is my belief that the basis and design of this proposed debate is in fact, counterproductive in this regard. I implore you to carefully reconsider the principles and purpose of this piece of programming;
“I hope ITN will seek to ensure that the debate meets the traditionally high editorial standards of Channel 4, who have been longstanding advocates and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community.”