This is the response we sent to IPSO in June 2019.
We support IPSO’s desire to have guidance that is fair to transgender people and that does not demonise them or sensationalise their stories. We think it is right to avoid breaching their privacy and to avoid the use of pejorative language.
We do, however, feel that, in some areas, notably those relating to language and terminology, IPSO guidance can be confusing and in some cases misleading. We outline the areas of concern below.
We believe that newspapers should be able to identify someone by their biological sex in stories where not do so would be nonsensical or confusing to the reader. This is particularly the case in stories involving male-to-female transgender criminals. Some examples of stories where the use of a pronoun matching someone’s self-identified gender has been inappropriate:
In this story, a male criminal who identifies as a woman is referred to in the article as a woman dressed as a man. Not only is it confusing for readers, it could undermine efforts of the police to catch the criminal.
This story about the convicted rapist Karen White (originally Stephen Wood) begins: “A transgender prisoner charged with raping a woman was remanded to a female prison where she indecently assaulted four inmates, a court heard. Karen White, 52, was sent to the jail despite the fact that she was a convicted sex offender and paedophile.”
At first glance, this seems like an extraordinary story – a group of four women carrying out a vicious, sustained attack on a 19-year old man. In fact the group were all biologically male. (Pronouns are not an issue in this article but the point about correctly identifying people by their sex still stands.)
This story is about an extremely violent offender, previously called Andrew Burns, now known as Tiffany Scott, who has a record of carrying out violent assault while in prison. The article says: “Earlier Scott had been found guilty of smearing excrement over her cell and assaulting four warders and a prison nurse during a ‘dirty protest’ at Glenochil jail, Clackmannanshire.” We argue that this is inappropriate because Scott appears to be using transgender status to gain particular privileges – the article mentions, for example, that Scott insisted that female prison officers carry out a strip search. Scott has also asked to be addressed as “Mighty Almighty”. We believe that it is sensible to be cautious about the motives of a violent criminal who is claiming transgender status.
There are also occasionally stories where the transgender status of the suspect is not known, which puts reporters in a very difficult position. See, for example, the recent assault on Julie Bindel in Edinburgh. In such cases it is more straightforward (and accurate) to describe the assault as being carried out by a man.
Finally, the use of preferred pronouns (rather than biologically accurate ones) in the case of violent offenders serves to disguise and minimise the problem of male violence against women. Nearly half of the transgender prisoners in England and Wales have at least one conviction for sexual assault. Referring to these prisoners as “she” falsely suggests that far more women are committing crimes of sexual assault than is actually the case.
We believe that terms such as “transgender woman,” “transwoman” or “transman” should be explained to the reader. A number of people aren’t aware that a “transgender woman” or a “transwoman” is a man who identifies as a woman. It’s not unusual for people to assume that a “transwoman” must be a woman who identifies as male. Here’s an example of a confusing story from the BBC:
This story minimises the impact of allowing biological males to compete in women’s sport. Take the first two paragraphs:
“Rachel McKinnon estimates she has received more than 100,000 hate messages on Twitter since she won her UCI Masters Track World Championship title in October.
“The 36-year-old Canadian’s victory was controversial in some quarters because she is a transgender woman competing in female sport, albeit in the 35-44-year-old category.”
The focus of the story is about how McKinnon is a victim of hate for wanting to fulfil her reasonable desire to compete as a woman. The phrase “transgender woman” should at least have an explanation in brackets such as “a biological man who identifies as female”. (Incidentally, try replacing the pronoun “she” with “he” and see how differently the story reads.)
It’s also the case that many people assume that transgender people have had surgery to transition to the opposite sex. In fact, for many (perhaps most) people who identify as trans this isn’t the case. It would be helpful to have some clarity in the guidance about the terminology newspapers can use to explain this to readers.
We are also concerned about some newspapers’ use of the phrase “gender assigned at birth” to refer to an individual’s biological sex. Babies aren’t assigned a gender; their sex is observed. The implication that health professionals are randomly assigning gender identities to babies is false and misleading. Examples:
The only time when the phrase “assigned [male or female] at birth” is useful is when referring to the small number of individuals with intersex conditions. Using it at other times can wrongly lead readers to believe that the individual was born with an intersex condition.
It would be helpful if the IPSO guidance could mention this.
Suicide isn’t mentioned in IPSO’s guidance on reporting stories involving transgender individuals. It does, however, have separate guidance on suicide. We have become very concerned that many transgender lobbying organisations repeatedly refer to a high risk of suicide amongst young transgender people. See, for example:
Not all these are registered with IPSO (including the Guardian, one of the worst offenders), but it is still worth making the point that repeatedly stating that a particular group is at risk of suicide is not good practice. (See the Samaritans Guidelines on reporting suicide that warn against dramatising or sensationalising the risk of suicide.) It is also inaccurate: the inflated suicide risk is based on a very highly flawed study with a tiny, self-selecting sample. It would be useful if IPSO could include some advice in the guidance to use reference to suicide risk sparingly in news stories about transgender people.
Resources in the IPSO guidance
In the Resources section, the IPSO guidance lists a number of transgender lobbying groups. Most of these organisations have strong links to each other, and some actively misrepresent equalities law in their documentation and training. The inclusion of Mermaids in particular is troubling: it advocates for gender nonconforming children to have hormones and surgery; in its training it misrepresents both the law and scientific fact; and it has recently experienced a significant data breach that it has attempted to minimise, suggesting a carelessness in its treatment of a very vulnerable cohort.
There are no women’s groups listed, even though there are aspects of trans rights (for example, allowing biological men to be housed in women’s prisons, or to take part in women’s sports) that have a direct impact on women. It would be good to see women’s groups such as our own and Fair Play For Women listed in the resources, as well as Transgender Trend, which supports parents whose children are questioning their gender identity.
Examples of news stories where it would be appropriate to identify individuals according to biological sex
MISSING: Woman dressed as man seen in Dronfield
Police are appealing to find a missing woman who has been sighted dressed as a man in Derbyshire
Lisa Lacey, aged 47, who also uses the name Lisa Hauxwell and Lisa Hauxley, has been missing since Sunday, April 3.
Officers have identified CCTV footage of her visiting a petrol station shop on Stubley Lane, Dronfield, between 7pm on April 14 and 6pm on April 16.
Lisa, from Leeds, has been known to use a male identity under the name Craig John Hauxwell and the footage appears to show her dressed as man.
She is described as white, slim, 5ft 7ins tall, with shoulder-length blonde hair. She has a strong Geordie accent and a stutter.
Detective Inspector Phil Jackson, of Leeds District CID, said: “While it is positive to have this confirmed sighting after three weeks of searching, we remain very concerned for Lisa’s welfare and need to find her and establish that she is safe and well.
I would like to hear from anyone in the Derbyshire area who has seen her as she appears in the CCTV image or anyone who has any information that could assist in tracing her.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact Leeds District CID on 101.
Source: Derbyshire Times, 25/04/2016
Transgender inmate charged with raping a woman sexually assaulted four fellow prisoners days after being remanded to an all-female jail
A transgender prisoner charged with raping a woman was remanded to a female prison where she indecently assaulted four inmates, a court heard.
Karen White, 52, was sent to the jail despite the fact that she was a convicted sex offender and paedophile.
All her previous offences had been committed when she was a man – and White had not had gender reassignment surgery when she went to women-only New Hall Prison near Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where the sex assaults took place. [continues]
Source: Daily Mail, 06/09/2018
Shocking moment gang of women beat man to the ground at Leicester Square Underground station and repeatedly stamp on his head
THIS video shows the shocking moment a gang of four women repeatedly kicked and lashed out at a man at Leicester Square Underground station.
As onlookers screamed in the background, the women beat the 19-year-old man to the ground as staff tried in vain to stop them from attacking him.
In the vicious attack, the women could be seen repeatedly stamping on the man’s head as he lay face down on the floor. [continues]
Source: The Sun, 25/06/2018
Transgender prisoner branded one of Scotland’s most dangerous scalded in revenge for razor attack
A violent prisoner had boiling water thrown over her after she slashed another con.
Transgender Tiffany Scott, previously Andrew Burns, needed treatment to serious injuries after the revenge attack at Edinburgh’s Saughton Prison.
Minutes earlier the thug – one of Scotland’s most dangerous prisoners – had slashed a fellow convict with a razor blade during an argument over a mirror… …
In April Scott, 26, had to be wrestled to a hospital floor after spitting at nurses, with 11 security and prison officers needed to get her under control.
Four months later a courtroom was put into lockdown for safety reasons when Scott appeared for sentencing. Earlier Scott had been found guilty of smearing excrement over her cell and assaulting four warders and a prison nurse during a “dirty protest” at Glenochil jail, Clackmannanshire. [continues]
Source: Daily Record, 12/06/2018
Transgender women in sport: Are they really a ‘threat’ to female sport?
Rachel McKinnon estimates she has received more than 100,000 hate messages on Twitter since she won her UCI Masters Track World Championship title in October.
The 36-year-old Canadian’s victory was controversial in some quarters because she is a transgender woman competing in female sport, albeit in the 35-44-year-old category. [continues]
Source: BBC, 18/12/2018
Example of a news story that talks about gender being ‘assigned at birth’
The transgender family where the father gave birth
Includes the sentence: “Trans men, assigned female at birth, often receive hormone therapy treatment, but recent studies show that this does not prevent pregnancies in the short or long-term.”
Source: BBC, 23/09/2016
Example of news stories that dramatise suicide risk
Trans people already face a hostile world. Now the media is making it worse
Contains the sentence: “Almost half of trans school pupils in the UK have attempted suicide.”
Source: The Guardian, 17/11/2017
5-year-old with gender dysphoria ‘upset she won’t be able to grow baby in belly’
Includes the sentence:
“In 2018, a US study found that about 30 per cent of trans female teens have attempted suicide at least once, as well as 28 per cent of adolescents with gender identity disorder.”
Source: Daily Mirror, 31/03/2019