BBC continues to help manufacture transphobic culture war over sports

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Much like the last time they did something exactly like this regarding trans people, the BBC have taken the anonymous testimony of two people with a vague connection to the subject and platformed their obviously bigoted opinions

The BBC have yet again proven themselves to be taking part in the manufacturing of culture wars over transgender people. This time with the article from BBC sport titled “Transgender athletes: ‘Protect women’s sport,’ say two British elite athletes.” Written by Janer Dougall and Katie Falkingham who quite frankly deserve the criticism they will likely face for obvious propaganda in favour of hate groups.

In the article the BBC cite the voices of two “elite athletes” who they have kept anonymous. While the trans athletes they talk about are photographed and named, of course. This shows where the BBC’s priorities lie; in protecting transphobic voices from backlash while supporting the transphobic abuse transgender athletes are being put through.

The two athletes suggest that to “protect women’s sport” have suggested a very “separate but equal” approach to the “problem” of transgender people’s existence and therefore inclusion. This by arguing there should be a third category, the “male open category”; a category designed for men but which allows women to compete in it too, I assume as a third option in sports categories. Trans people have already discussed at length how ‘third space’ rhetoric like this is inhumane.

The BBC goes on to mention Boris Johnson’s comments on sports which also support the transphobic narratives. Boris Johnson’s government has already given a statement on the government’s position regarding trans inclusion and its to stay out of it. The government, not trans people. Via Baroness Berridge at the House of Lords we know that the government do not intend to bring any legislation with regards to this matter and leave the decision in the same place its been forever; in the hands of those running sports governing bodies to do the leg-work and figure out their own policy.

The article continues with quotes from the supposed elite athletes which to any reasonable ears would make them sound like conspiracy theorist weirdos. Shouting about how “soon there won’t be any women’s sports at all!” and claiming that trans people are stealing places from cisgender women in sports, though curiously those cisgender women didn’t steal spaces from other women; they competed fairly for them, as transgender people also do.

A small section in the middle of the piece cites Joanna Harper, a sports scientist and of course makes sure to mention she is transgender. A fact which doesn’t matter and serves only to allow people to hand-waive away her opinions as bias. She says that with trans people representing roughly 0.5-1% of the population we should, in theory, see 0.5-1% of athletes who are transgender too, but we don’t. The facts are that the moral panic over trans people in sports is massively overblown because trans people are still massively under-represented in sports, with just a handful being known about each year.

The piece goes on to sow doubt around the IOC’s recent statements regarding trans inclusion which mirror those we saw from UK Government above; its up to federations to work out their own eligibility criteria. Which realistically makes a lot of sense, every sport is different and so each individual sport should figure out how they can include trans people rather than just excluding us because it seems easier.

One of the ways this has been done in the past has been testosterone levels, however groups like the IOC have dropped those requirements due to being unworkable. This, in part, due to our developing understandings of hormones and how they interact with the human body. High testosterone in the blood does not automatically equate to a significant biological advantage that would make sports unfair. Rules which make the assumption it does have negatively impacted women who aren’t transgender in sports too, such as Caster Semenya.

The piece finishes up by finally including the voice of a trans person in sport, though one in which I imagine the ‘biological advantage’ argument feels harder to make. Charlie Martin, British racing driver talks about how part of the point of sport is to find superhumans. She references Ian Thorpe who had massive hands and feet; “he basically had four flippers on the end of his limbs” and Nims Purja, who climbed the 14 highest mountains and was found to have the ability to exert energy even in low oxygen situations.

I’m sure if you look into sport there are people out there who have these advantages which people celebrate. Yet as soon as we look at transgender women, it’s like a completely different set of rules and that to me feels like blatant discrimination.”

Then we get a quick tidbit on how “some women” – note the lack of “cisgender” there as to help imply “women” and “transgender women” are two distinct categories – have backed the inclusion of trans athletes. The BBC makes reference to Erica Sullivan writing to support inclusion of trans women after her loss to Lia Thomas, a trans woman who was dubbed a cheater for competing against cis women while being in receipt of all manner of harassment and abuse, for months.

“Like anyone else in this sport, Lia doesn’t win every time. And when she does, she deserves, like anyone else in this sport, to be celebrated for her hard-won success, not labelled a cheater simply because of her identity. As a woman in sports, I can tell you that I know what the real threats to women’s sports are: sexual abuse and harassment, unequal pay and resources and a lack of women in leadership.”

This piece is far more balanced than the previous piece we saw in this vein, no doubt about that. But also the previous piece is the infamous ‘trans women are rapists’ piece the BBC did where they sourced comment from anonymous bigots, hate groups, and an alleged sexual abuser of cis lesbians to platform the transphobic belief that trans women are pressuring cisgender women into sex they do not want. Its hard not to get more balanced than that.

But that doesn’t change a lot, this piece still attempts to platform anti-trans narratives and in my view gives them more weight than the trans inclusive rebuttals it features. The title of the article isn’t: “What do athletes and sports scientists say about trans inclusion in sports?” its: “Transgender athletes: ‘Protect women’s sport,’ say two British elite athletes” because the point is quite obviously to support that perspective.

Transphobia is protected while trans people are expected to be on the front lines of defending our basic rights to humanity, which yes, includes not being discriminated against for being transgender. Those with all the power, elite athletes no less, get to hide in the shadows to protect their financial interests while trans people can rarely afford to participate at all, again, due to discrimination. While at the same time fending off barrages of abuse, harassment and downright violence that spring up every time someone else engages in the exact rhetoric of the transphobic runners from this article.

Fairness in sports is important, but it will never be achieved through bigoted nonsense like the kind advanced by the BBC in this piece. I would say the BBC should know better, but we already know it doesn’t. Its happy to join the bandwagon of anti-trans sensationalism for the sake of a few clicks. You know, the usual horrific bigot crap our community has come to expect from media giants around the world.

If you’d like a nice palette cleanser after this then feel free to swing by this thread of mine, where I asked my followers to talk about athletes who have been publicly trans inclusive, and not cowardly transphobes hiding behind their powerful friends in media. It’s wholesome, good and shows what we all know to be true; the support for trans inclusion is far larger and stronger than the opposition. The reason you don’t see that narrative in the media is because it doesn’t generate views.

Gemma Stone
Gemma Stone is a transgender writer who has been covering the rise of transphobic hate campaigning in the UK. She has written hundreds of articles dissecting aspects of transphobia including debunking blatant disinformation. She is very tired and trying her best, and hopefully having a positive impact on such a beautiful community.

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