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Open letter to the BBC

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Fair Play for Women, BBC, open letter, style guidelines for journalists, women's voices, women's rights, transgender, GRA, consultation, debateWe need to talk, as a nation, about some pretty big questions.

Dear Tony Hall,

We are writing to ask you, as Director-General of the BBC, for reassurance that the BBC will uphold its responsibilities to provide balanced, fair coverage with regard to political and public debate about women’s rights in relation to transgender issues.

At the Westminster Social Policy Forum in June, a BBC executive revealed that the new BBC’s style guide for journalists is being revised to change the way BBC journalists approach transgender issues. These issues are receiving more and more coverage and the Government will be opening a public consultation on Gender Recognition Act on Tuesday 3rd July. This is now an urgent matter and the content of your style guide is of crucial importance.

We want to live in a world where transgender people can live freely and happily without discrimination. We also want our own rights and protections as women to remain workable.

To make sure that happens, we need to talk, as a nation, about some pretty big questions, such as:

At what point, if any, does society believe a man can actually become a woman?

How to we protect the group in society with female biology if society agrees ‘women’ no longer describes them exclusively?

The answers to these questions have unprecedented implications for women’s sex-based rights.

If anyone can choose their sex based on how they feel, not biology, surgery or a medical diagnosis, rights women now take for granted become meaningless in law and practice.

Things like:

The right for all women and girls to choose single sex spaces in certain sensitive situations, such as when changing or showering, or sleeping in shared accommodation;

The right for women to choose to compete in single sex sports at any level;

The importance of statistics such as equal pay, crime statistics etc to be collected on the basis of biological sex as well as or instead of the gender people say they feel;

That even voicing opinions on and demands for women’s rights not be labelled or even considered ‘hate speech’ or ‘discrimination’, even when they may conflict with the demands of some trans rights activists;

The right to meet and organise politically with other women about issues that affect us on the basis of our female biology.

We do not feel the BBC has given due weight to such critical and far reaching issues that have the potential to affect every woman and girl in Britain today.

And none of these questions can be even considered in a political debate if the conversation starts from the assumption that transwomen are exactly the same as biological women.

We understand this is a complicated and sensitive subject. We are firmly for respectful debate, and have no wish to unnecessarily offend. But too much is at stake here for too many women, and we must be able to have a full and frank debate as a nation.

We cannot do that if assertions are presented as though they are fact, uncritically and without question.

The manner in which BBC content describes and reports aspects of the debate around transgender people and their legal rights could mean the BBC is effectively taking a side in that debate, instead of upholding its commitment to neutrality and balance.

Legally speaking, a male-born person who identifies as female is can only be said to be a woman if they hold a Gender Recognition Certificate under the Gender Recognition Act 2004. To present any other male-born transgender person to BBC audiences as a woman (either explicitly or by implication) is to make a judgement on an area of contention and controversy.

The Government has announced its intention to consult on matters of law such as the Gender Recognition Act in the coming weeks.

In a recent response to a Parliamentary petition requesting that women’s concerns and legal rights be respected in this process, the Government confirmed that it recognises women’s groups as legitimate stakeholder in this process.

A similar position has been taken by the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, which has promised to consult women’s groups on Labour Party policy on transgender issues.

Given the growing salience of gender issues in political debate and the imminent Government consultation, please provide the answers to the following questions, in the hope of allaying our concerns over your coverage of that debate:

As a matter of policy, what guidance is given to BBC editorial staff about how to ensure the voices of women concerned about the impact on their rights in relation to trans issues are fairly represented?

What is BBC policy on the introduction and presentation of self-identifying women to BBC audiences? What guidance is given to editorial staff about whether and how to explain the status of such speakers, their gender and the pronouns used in relation to them?

Have any external groups been consulted regarding your update of editorial style guidelines in relation to these issues, and if so who?

When will the updated style guide be published?

Yours,

Fair Play for Women

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