An open letter to the BBC on trans lives

Chris Northwood
15 min readOct 17, 2021

Dear Fran Unsworth and Tim Davie,

We the undersigned are concerned that the BBC is in breach of its public purposes in recent reporting and coverage of issues affecting the LGBT, and in particular the trans community.

The BBC’s first public purpose stresses that “content should be provided to the highest editorial standards” and “should offer a range and depth of analysis and content”. In particular, some recent coverage regarding transgender issues have been shallow rather than in depth, and have taken the words of anti-LGBT campaign groups at face value, rather than exploring them in depth. It seems that in these recent cases, editorial standards over the coverage of issues ranging from Gender Recognition Act reform, and the role of Stonewall, fall below that set out in the charter.

One prominent example is presenting the LGB Alliance as a pro-LGB organisation, focussing purely on sexual orientation rather than gender issues, when the campaigning and action of such a group does not back this up but instead shows that they are actually an anti-trans organisation, rather than a pro-LGB one. The BBC editorial stance is particularly confused on this, where it often presents the LGB Alliance as one side of the argument when it relates to issues of gender identity, but then introduces it as a pro-LGB campaigning group. Inviting the LGB Alliance on as one side of an issue which they claim not to be involved on, but then introducing them according to their own description is showing a failing of the duty to be “duly accurate and impartial” and to outsiders causes concern that the BBC is happy to reinforce the duplicitous nature of the organisation.

Similarly, there have been many examples where BBC shows have permitted misinformation by anti-trans campaigners on self-identification within the context of Gender Recognition Act reform to pass unchallenged which may mislead an uninformed audience member. Many anti-trans campaigners conflate the issue of allowing trans women into women’s only prisons or shelters (permitted under the Equality Act of 2010), with the matter of updating birth certificates, which self-identification under GRA reform concerns itself with, and when the BBC allows misinformation to occur on its platform, it is failing on the core Reithian principles of informing and educating.

We are further concerned that on this issue the BBC is also in breach of the fourth public purpose, which seeks to “accurately and authentically represent and portray the lives of the people of the United Kingdom today”. Although there have been several documentaries which centre the experience of trans people, when it comes to more general coverage, there has been a lack of accuracy and authenticity in the representation of the lives of trans people. For example, much coverage of transgender issues has focussed on relative niche areas such as fairness in elite sports, philosophical debates of the definition of the word “woman”, or those who detransition. However, most surveys of the trans community show that the biggest issues affecting that community are access to healthcare, mental health support and secure housing. Similarly, within the active discussion around that of trans youth, a disproportionate amount of time is spent on talking about those who detransition as a result of misdiagnosis, without appropriately setting the context of how many young lives have been saved through appropriate early intervention. By focussing much of the debate around trans issues through the lens of the anti-trans campaigners arguments, rather than the authentic lives of trans people, the BBC is failing in its public purposes.

We are also concerned by the recent reports that show trans staff at the BBC consider that the working environment has become “hostile” and that there are some reports that the BBC feels that it has to be impartial when it comes to supporting LGBT colleagues in order to protect editorial impartiality. These reports are worrying and will lead to the BBC failing to represent the diversity of UK audiences through these members of staff leaving the corporation.

We make the following asks of the BBC to ensure it upholds its own public purposes and values, to restore impartiality and balance in news and current affairs programming, to authentically and accurately represent the lives of trans people as part of the wider discussion on trans rights, and to ensure the BBC remains a safe place for all who work there, to protect the BBC as a national broadcaster.

  • Increase staff training and knowledge of the issues to address failings of News & Current Affairs coverage which has permitted misinformation on trans issues such as Gender Recognition Act reform to spread unchecked, in order to restore the high editorial standards in this area that the BBC has fallen short of on this subject.
  • To include trans people in the coverage of their lives, and that the editorial framing accurately and authentically represents the lives of the trans community to ensure that when debate of transgender issues occurs, it does so in line with the 4th public purpose, rather than focussing on strawman arguments presented by anti-trans campaigners.
  • To recommit to a workplace that is safe for trans people in line with the BBC’s value of a respectful and diverse workplace, by providing a safe space for staff which experience bullying and harassment to report this, and to investigate any complaint with the intention of reducing hostile workplaces, and to appropriately discipline any staff that contribute to a hostile working environment.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Northwood, former BBC R&D technologist
Aaron King
Abbie Jones
Abby Jolene Feld, Camera Operator
Abi Wright
Abigail Dixon, Paramedic
Ada Bolton
Adam Turner
Adi Daly-Gourdialsing
Adrian, Welfare Officer at GULGBTQ+
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Sophie Beaumont
Sophie Bennett
Sophie Bourne
Sophie Bradshaw
Sophie Cook
Sophie Grace Chappell
Sophie Lynx
Sophie Rebecca
Sou Alexander
Stacy Nicolson
Stefan Liberadzki
Stella MacDonald
Steph Egan
Steph Nicholls
Stephanie Dale, former Labour town councillor for Sleaford
Stephanie J. Davies
Stephanie McAlea, Creative Manager at Stygian Fox Publishing
Stephanie Ressort
Stephanie White
Stephanie Zihms
Stephen Donnan-Dalzell, Writer & activist
Steve Goddard
Steve Urquhart
Steve Wright
Steven Fleming
Steven Meacher
Steven Perkins
Stuart Frazer
Stuart Robertson
Stuart Sharpe
Su Stopporton
Sue Akehurst
Sunil Hutchin-Bellur
Susannah Mallaghan
Suusi Malcolm-Brown
Suzie McCarthy
Sydney Cardew
Sylvia van Wijk
Tabitha Adams
Talia Augustidis
Tamara Marie Keating
Tanya Newton
Teresa Hewitt
Terry Clarke
Thea Shortman
Theo Jupp
Theresa Davis
Thomas Barfield
Thomas Edwards
Thomas Keyton
Thomas Luke Shaw
Thomas Parker
Tim Hoogenboom
Tim Lancaster
Tina Sikka
TMSA-UK (Trans Masculine Support & Advice UK)
Toby Kill
Toby Sullivan
Tom C
Tom Earl
Tom Howe, Former BBC Employee
Tom Katsumi
Tom Langham
Tom Macgregor
Tom Meadowcroft, Socialist Alternative South West
Tom Vousden
Tommy Hill
Torin Bramley
Trish Watt, Musician
Tristan Gray
Tyler Atkins
Tyler Dennis
Tyler Rai Ingram
Tyrone Curtis
Ultan Murray
Val Walker
Vanessa Atkins
Verin Smyth Callard
Vic Entwistle
Vicki Malesza
Vicky-Jane Gooding
Victoria Manning
Viktor Leppänen
Violet Tyler
Violette Lundsten, Trans Media Watch Trustee
Wai Ming Lee
Wendy Priscott
Wenjin Ren
Will Glynn
William Hayden-Shears
William Hobson, BBC Staff Member
William Slade
William Tench
Xavier de Sousa
Xin Lowell
Yena Ahmed
Yvonne O’Keefe
Zachary Mcarthur
Zack Gray
Zero Piraeus, National Secretary, Northern Independence Party
Zoë Abendstern
Zoë Ellery, Associate Lecturer
Zoe Goodacre MNCS (Accred), Psychotherapeutic Counsellor
Zoë Martin
Zoey Cruz



Chris Northwood

A technologist wanting to share knowledge and iterate towards a better world.