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Viewers slam Newsnight for using ‘anti-trans’ professor during healthcare debate

Vic Parsons July 23, 2019

A still from the Newsnight segment (BBC)

The BBC’s flagship news and current affairs programme Newsnight is facing heavy criticism on Twitter for airing a segment about transgender children and puberty blockers that featured a professor labelled ‘anti-trans’.

Michael Biggs, who is an assistant sociology professor at Oxford University, was said to be linked in October 2018 to an anti-trans Twitter account that said “transphobia is a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.”

On July 23’s Newsnight, Biggs discussed “red flags” about the research behind puberty blockers being given to trans children.

Puberty blockers, described by the Newsnight voiceover as a “controversial medical treatment,” can temporarily prevent the development of secondary sexual characteristics (like an Adam’s apple or facial hair).

This means that trans teenagers can potentially avoid some gender-affirming surgeries later in life.

Biggs, who Newsnight acknowledges has “attracted criticism from some in the transgender community for his views,” told the programme that he used Freedom of Information laws to obtain information about a scientific study that partially formed a basis for lowering the age at which trans kids can be given puberty blockers from 16 to 11 in 2011.

But Biggs’ involvement in the programme is being blasted online by both trans and cis (not trans) commentators.

A BBC spokesperson said in a statement to PinkNews: “This was an impartial piece of journalism exploring the subject of puberty blockers after England’s only NHS youth gender clinic lowered the age at which they are offered to children.”

The Newsnight show presented data suggesting puberty blockers can increase the risk of self-harm for trans kids.

However, this has been criticised for failing to acknowledge the risk of self-harm or suicide attempts for trans kids who are not given the puberty blockers.

Other criticism focused on the apparently negative spin the segment took on data that shows trans children remain trans into adulthood – with critics suggesting the programme was presenting trans identity as something that children should be encouraged out of.

The programme referenced a Dutch study, which showed that “all participants on puberty blockers went on to take hormones.”

Susan Bewley, a professor of women’s health at King’s College London, told Newsnight, “We don’t know why children taking puberty blockers tend to go on to actually transition.”

Bewley and Biggs as well as both Newsnight journalists are cisgender.

The only trans involvement in the show is a trans teenager, Hannah Philipps, who says she thinks there should be more research into trans healthcare.

The programme also said that puberty blockers are harmful to bone growth, a claim that has been questioned online by trans healthcare provider GenderGP.

PinkNews has reached out to Oxford University but had not received a response by time of publication.

More: BBC, michael biggs, newsnight

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