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BBC quits Stonewall scheme over ‘risk of perceived bias’ following ‘organised attack on inclusion’

Patrick Kelleher November 10, 2021
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BBC defends 'rigorous' standards as lesbians condemn 'transphobic' article

The BBC headquarters. (Getty/ Peter Macdiarmid)

The BBC has confirmed that it is quitting Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Programme, a scheme designed to make workplaces more inclusive for LGBT+ staff.

Tim Davie, director general of the BBC, announced the decision in an email sent to staff on Wednesday (10 November). He said he knew the news would not be “a welcome development” for some staff and said the broadcaster will remain committed to being “an industry-leading employer on LGBTQ+ inclusion”.

However, Davie said he and other senior managers had ultimately decided to bow out of the Diversity Champions Programme because some organisations and individuals had suggested the BBC can’t be impartial when it is working with the LGBT+ rights charity.

Davie said he doesn’t believe the BBC’s work has been influenced by being a member of the programme, however he said it was important for the broadcaster to not be seen to be aligned with Stonewall so it can “minimise the risk of perceived bias”.

Stonewall said the BBC’s exit from the Diversity Champions Programme is the result of an “organised attacks on workplace inclusion that extend far beyond” its scheme.

“It is shocking that organisations are being pressured into rolling back support for LGBTQ+ employees,” a spokesperson said. “Ultimately, it is LGBTQ+ people who suffer.”

Davie told staff that the BBC doesn’t “condone or support discrimination”, writing weeks after the broadcaster was widely accused of transphobia for an anti-trans news article.

“Finally, I want to directly address an issue that a number of people have put to me,” Davie wrote. “Some have asked me whether the BBC needs to be ‘impartial on trans people’s lives’. I want to be clear, our impartiality is infused with democratic values and we are not impartial on human rights. In simple terms, what that means is that we don’t condone or support discrimination in any form.”

However, he continued: “Our editorial guidelines are also clear: when reporting on policy debates, our journalism must be impartial and reflect a range of views. I want our reporting to cover a range of topics and different perspectives, to help our audiences understand and engage with the world around them.”

The BBC announced the news publicly shortly afterwards, saying it had decided to bow out of the programme following “careful consideration” about how its membership might be perceived.

“Being a part of the Diversity Champions Programme has never required the BBC to support the campaigns of Stonewall, nor its policy positions,” a BBC spokesperson said.

“As a broadcaster, we have our own values and editorial standards – these are clearly set out and published in our editorial guidelines. We are also governed by the Royal Charter and the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. Our journalists continue, as ever, to report a full range of perspectives on stories.

“Although the BBC will not be renewing its participation in the Diversity Champions Programme, in the future we will continue to work with a range of external organisations, including Stonewall, on relevant projects to support our LGBTQ+ staff.”

Davie announced that the BBC will now work with INvolve UK on LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace going forward. INvolve UK is a diversity and inclusion consultancy group set up by Suki Sandhu.

BBC’s exit from Stonewall scheme is the result of an ‘organised attack on workplace inclusion’

Stonewall said it will continue to engage with the BBC to champion support for its LGBT+ staff and to make sure the broadcaster is representing queer communities through its reporting.

“It’s a shame that the BBC has decided not to renew their membership of our Diversity Champions programme, but as with all membership programmes, organisations come and go depending on what’s best for their inclusion journey at the time,” a Stonewall spokesperson said.

The charity drew attention to its own research, which shows that LGBT+ people continue to face discrimination in the workplace and when searching for work.

“Attacks on organisations who support LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces form part of a wider onslaught on those supporting LGBTQ+ rights. Of course, for LGBTQ+ charities, there is nothing new about being attacked.

“Many of the arguments against trans people today are simply recycled homophobia from the ’80s and ’90s. We all remember being told that gay people were predators and lesbians were a threat in single-sex spaces. That wasn’t true of lesbians, bi and gay people then, and it isn’t true of trans people now.”

The charity added that it is facing “rising intolerance”, but it said it will not be silenced.

“Not until all of us are free to be proud, free to be loved, free to be together, free to be who we are. Our work continues until the world we imagine is the world we live in.”

The BBC has faced condemnation over its increasingly hostile coverage on trans issues

The news comes after weeks of controversy surrounding the BBC’s coverage of trans issues. In October, the BBC published an article titled “We’re being pressured into sex by some trans women”.

The article relied on a survey of just 80 people, which was conducted by a member of anti-trans pressure group Get The L Out. The BBC faced a wave of complaints over the article, with 20,000 people signing an open letter criticising the article for suggesting that “transgender women generally pose a risk to cisgender lesbians in great enough numbers that it is newsworthy”.

The controversy intensified again when it emerged that Lily Cade, a porn star who was interviewed in the BBC’s article, had called for the mass “execution” and “lynching” of trans women.

“If you left it up to me, I’d execute every last one of them personally,” Cade wrote on her blog.

The BBC responded by removing Cade’s quotes from its original BBC article – however, the rest of the piece remains intact. The broadcaster has defended the article, insisting that it went through a “rigorous editorial process”.

Despite this, the backlash has refused to die down, with protests taking place in Manchester and London over the article.

That fiasco was preceded by a heavily criticised BBC Sounds podcast series presented by BBC Radio Ulster host Stephen Nolan which “investigated” links between the broadcaster and Stonewall.

LGBT+ staff at the BBC told Vice that they were “super scared” about rumours that the broadcaster was preparing to leave Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Scheme in October. Their claims did not make it into Nolan’s investigation.

Related topics: BBC, Stonewall

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