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Columnist Janice Turner wins award, sparking controversy about trans rights

Sofia Lotto Persio December 11, 2018
Times columnist Janice Turner won the Comment Journalism award on December 10.

Times columnist Janice Turner has previously been criticised for her writing on trans rights. (PressGazette/TwitteR)

Openly gay MP Stephen Doughty has criticised the choice of awarding a journalism award to columnist Janice Turner in virtue of her role in “whipping up inflammatory prejudice against transgender people.”

British Journalism Awards organisers Press Gazette awarded Janice Turner the prize for comment journalism of the year at a ceremony on Monday.

The prize, which considered submissions published between September 2017 and August 2018, rewarded journalists who “brought new ideas and thinking to bear when discussing a matter of public interest.”

Turner, whose work is regularly published in the The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers, has faced criticism from LGBT+ campaigners and the trans community.

In October, trans rights campaigner Helen Belcher quit the Comment Awards’ judging panel following Turner’s nomination in the Commentator of the Year category.

“I find it deeply sad that someone who has whipped up inflammatory prejudice against trans people has been rewarded in this way,” Doughty tells PinkNews.

He added: “Trans people deserve the rights and respect the rest of us enjoy. Debate around these issues can be difficult and sensitive at times and many voices must and should be heard. But the debate must be conducted with respect and care for our fellow human beings as a primary objective, unlike many of her shrill and regrettable comments.”

Janice Turner wrote a piece criticising the “trans lobby”

Doughty previously criticised one of Turner’s pieces during a session of the Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee’s hate crime inquiry in April, in which he condemned the Telegraph and The Times for “jumping on the anti-trans bandwagon.”

The article—published on November 11, 2017 and titled “Children sacrificed to appease trans lobby”—began with an attack against artist, writer and activist Travis Alabanza, whose protest against Topshop’s gender-segregated changing rooms led the retailer to implement a gender-neutral policy.

Turner suggested the change would endanger teenage girls getting changed in spaces where “any man” could walk in, writing: “I’ve been shocked at how the trans lobby, abetted by a cowed LGBT movement and deluded politicians, are prepared to sacrifice the wellbeing of children.”

Labour MP Stephen Doughty
Labour MP Stephen Doughty

Doughty found the depiction of the trans community as a “lobby” particularly troubling.

“You will understand why that is a particular concern, given the previous use of ‘gay lobby,’ ‘Jewish lobby’ and all of those sorts of things,” he said at the time.

The British Journalism Awards judges did not explicitly mentioned her coverage of transgender issues in awarding Turner the prize, more generally explaining: “She writes with courage prompting debate about difficult-to-tackle issues.”

Turner referred to “toxic subjects” in accepting her award. “When you write about really difficult and toxic subjects it really helps to have your newspaper behind you and I just want to thank the Times… who have been completely behind me in dealing with something that is complicated,” she said.

One of Turner’s colleague congratulated her for standing up to a so-called “transgender orthodoxy,” explicitly linking the award to her writing on transgender issues.

“Huge congratulations to my colleague Janice Turner @VictoriaPeckham who has been brilliant and brave on the dangers of the new transgender orthodoxy,” wrote columnist Jenni Russell in a tweet that was liked by The Sunday Times editor Eleanor Mills.

LGBT+ campaigners condemn award to Janice Turner

But, like Doughty, several LGBT+ advocates and campaigners criticised the decision to award Turner with a prize.

Performer Alabanza referenced Turner’s “Children sacrificed to appease trans lobby” article in responding to her victory.

“Janice’s lies about me (I was a 22 at the times) caused months of distress,” they wrote in a tweet.

Travis Alabanza, who has criticised PressGazette for awarding Janice Turner the prize, speaks to PinkNews in June.
Travis Alabanza convinced Topshop to implement a gender-neutral changing room policy. (PinkNews)

Alabanza added: “I mention age because what Janice fails to do in her journalism, look at young people already in vulnerable situations that would be very negatively effected by her journalism. This isn’t to ‘cancel’ her , as has been suggested, more wish she opened up to criticism / dialogue.”

LGBT+ advocate and CEO at Rights Info Alex Feis-Bryce said he was “disgusted” at the decision.

“Wow. I am disgusted by this @pressgazette. Janice Turner has perpetuated myths and half truths in order to demean a minority who are fighting for recognition and equality. Stirring up hatred and hostility ruins lives. Shoddy, unethical journalism should not be rewarded,” he wrote in a tweet.

“I worry deeply about the effect this has on trans people. I think that we can sing better songs.”

— Patrick Strudwick

Columnist and LGBT+ campaigner Owen Jones tweeted: “If you’re going to use your powerful media platform to whip up fear against minorities—whether it be migrants or trans people—at the very least stop pretending you’re courageous. You’re not. You’re just doing what the vast majority of the media do.”

British Journalism Awards winner Patrick Strudwick condemn transphobia in his speech

Journalist Patrick Strudwick, LGBT editor at BuzFeed UK, denounced the British media attacks against transgender people while accepting his award for Specialist Journalism.

“I never thought I could be a journalist. Growing up I would read what newspapers said about people like me: that we were ‘poofers’, a danger to children, that we deserved to die of AIDS.

“Now the media has another scapegoat, another target: transgender people. I worry deeply about the effect this has on trans people. I think that we can sing better songs,” he said in his speech, which he quoted on Twitter.

“Last night after my acceptance speech, so many journalists, mostly women, came up to say that they too are appalled by the transphobia on Fleet Street, that trans-exclusionary feminists do not speak for them,” he later added, thanking those who approached him.

Among those who congratulated Strudwick on his victory was journalist Paris Lee, who was recently announced as British Vogue‘s first transgender columnist. “Well done, thank you and shame on every single person who was in that room who is complicit in the media’s relentless bullying of trans people,” she wrote.

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