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BBC defends decision to dedicate 57 minutes to ‘detransitioners’ despite ‘unverified claims’

Vic Parsons November 28, 2019
BBC defends decision to dedicate 57 minutes to people who detransition

Charlie Evans, left, one of the detransitioners featured on BBC Newsnight, marching as part of anti-trans group 'Get the L Out' at Manchester Pride, 2019. (BBC/Screenshot)

Two flagship BBC programmes dedicated themselves to the subject of people who ‘detransition’ this week – to the vigorous approval of anti-trans organisations.

The stories of ‘detransitioners’ were the focus of BBC Two’s Newsnight and BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 on 26 November.

Altogether, Britain’s public service broadcaster aired 57 minutes of prime-time TV and radio on ‘detransitioners’.

Both programmes were presented by Newsnight correspondent Deborah Cohen – a white, cisgender woman who previously covered the trans community in a programme that was slammed by viewers for giving airtime to an ‘anti-trans’ sociology professor.

And the BBC programmes used footage from an anti-trans group greatly admired by a prominent right-wing, anti-abortion commentator in the US.

‘Detransitioner’ is the word used for people who undergo some form of transition associated with being transgender – be that socially, like changing their physical appearance and pronouns, or medical intervention, like hormone treatment or gender confirmation surgery – but later return to identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth.

The BBC focused on the stories of two people who detransitioned: Charlie Evans, who runs a support group for detransitioners, and Debbie, a woman in her 60s who went through surgical and medical interventions to live for almost two decades as a man.

Despite the BBC’s public commitment to balance in its programmes, both programmes only showed the perspectives of people who had undergone gender transition and later regretted it and detransitioned – neither featured a person who was happy to have undergone transition.

Yet multiple studies – alluded to in the BBC’s reporting – have found that less than one per cent of people who transition gender later regret it and detransition.

The BBC’s reporting, led by Cohen, also included Newsnight‘s Emily Maitlis and Hannah Barnes. All three journalists are cisgender, which reflected the make-up of the rest of the programme – all of the eight people we see on the Newsnight programme about gender identity are white in appearance, and only one is openly trans.

When asked by PinkNews why three cis journalists reported the story when the BBC has a dedicated LGBT+ correspondent, and why there was no balance given to the stories of the 99 per cent of people who are happy to have transitioned, a BBC spokesperson said: “We worked closely with contributors, advisors and professionals from the trans community for these stories, including Mermaids and The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.

“Both Mermaids and the Tavistock contributed on air to the programmes, and the latter gave a lengthy interview to Newsnight.

“As with anything the BBC covers, we make editorial decisions to cover stories in the public interest across a wide range of issues.”

‘Get the L Out.’

Charlie Evans, the founder of the Detransitioners Advocacy Network, told Newsnight that 300 people have contacted her saying that they also regret transitioning and have detransitioned. She also “concedes she cannot verify their accounts and it may be a biased sample”.

Evans has faced accusations that she was never trans and is, in fact, anti-trans, the voiceover tells us, while footage courtesy of anti-trans group ‘Get the L Out’ is played.

‘Get the L Out’ hijacked the front of the Pride in London (2018) and Manchester Pride (2019) parades, with banners reading “Lesbian not queer” and “Gender ideology harms lesbians”.

Footage from anti-trans group ‘Get the L Out’ shown on BBC Newsnight. (BBC/SCreenshot)

The two slogans, along with phrases like “woman: adult human female”, are considered by many in the trans community to be transphobic dogwhistles, used by groups like the notorious ‘LGB Alliance’.

It recently came to light that ‘Get the L Out’ are the “heroes” of a staunchly anti-abortion, right-wing US conservative commentator who thinks homosexuality is a sin.

The links between so-called “gender critical feminist” groups in the UK – including the ‘LGB Alliance’ and ‘Get the L Out’ – with both rightwing Christians in the US and far-right white supremacists is increasingly well-documented.

‘Gender-critical feminists’ delighted by BBC coverage.

Several anti-trans groups expressed their pleasure at the BBC’s coverage of detransitioners.

‘Fair Play For Women’, one of the UK’s most vocal “gender-critical feminist” groups – which largely exists online – said: “At last we are seeing top quality journalism on the hidden story of detransitioners. Detransition is the inevitable human cost of gender affirmation ideology – a cost that will be borne mostly by the lesbian community. Well done Newsnight.”

Responding to the BBC coverage, ‘4thWaveNow’, another well-known anti-trans group, said: “Slowly but steadily, the voices of detransitioners are starting to be heard in the major media. Here’s a woman who changed her mind after transitioning FTM at age 44. If adults regret, how much more cautiously should we treat children & teens who are certain they are truly trans?”

‘Experts we’ve spoken to say the research is limited and the existing detransition studies are flawed.’

Cohen repeatedly says in both the Newsnight and File on 4 coverage that “we don’t know how many people detransition or for what reason. Experts we’ve spoken to say the research is limited and the existing studies are flawed”.

But since the programmes aired, trans organisations have been pointing out that there is a body of research in this area – it just wasn’t included in the BBC’s programmes.

Multiple studies show that detransition is an issue affecting less than one per cent of people who transition. Research from the Nottingham Centre for Transgender Health that was presented at the World Professional Association for Transgender Health found that 0.47 per cent of 3,398 patients expressed transition-related regret or detransitioned.

An 0.6 per cent regret rate was reported by a 2005 Cambridge University Press study, which researched the outcomes of 162 adults who underwent gender reassignment surgery.

A Swedish analysis of people who’d applied for sex reassignment surgery over 50 years in Sweden found that 2.2 per cent of people who legally and surgically transitioned experienced regret.

And another Swedish study found that the most common reason for detransition is that the person couldn’t cope with the family and community support they lost when they transitioned, and the experiences of transphobia they suffered.

But on Newsnight, Maitlis said, “We don’t know that number [of people who detransition] is small because we don’t know the number.”

She added: “It is a concern that you’re putting people on these pathways without enough evidence of the treatment or of the long-term consequences of what that treatment is doing. This can be life-changing treatment in many situations and circumstances – and that pathway is something that you’re putting people on without the requisite evidence.”

More: BBC Bias, BBC File on 4, BBC Newsnight, detransition, Get The L Out, lgb alliance

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