Transgender equality charity warns of ‘rising media transphobia’

Besi Besemar January 15, 2013

The Scottish Transgender Alliance (STA)  has warned of “rising transphobia in the British media” which it claims could have a damaging impact on the mental health of transgender people.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill

The warning comes after what it describes as “a sustained campaign against transsexual women” in some parts of the media over the past few weeks culminating in an offensive article by Julie Burchill published in the Observer on Sunday, January 13.

In the article, Burchill directs a torrent of transphobic abuse at transgender people, describing them as “a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs” and other unrepeatable slurs. She goes on to suggest that transgender women aren’t real women by comparing them to “Black and White Minstrels” and making offensive comments about their anatomy.


The STA say that:

“such offensive language would not be deemed fit to publish if it attacked people on the basis of their race or sexual orientation rather than their gender identity” complaining that “transphobia is, for some reason deemed acceptable by the British media with a devastating impact on the mental health of transgender people.”

Nathan Gale, Development Worker for the STA, called on the Guardian to issue a full apology.

He said:

“Having your identity ridiculed in such an offensive way in a respected national newspaper is extremely damaging for trans people. Many trans women live in constant fear that they will be harassed or abused just walking down the street. Such comments being legitimised by the media make that fear all the more real. Like many we are shocked that such a transphobic article was allowed to be published in the first place, and it seems unlikely that such derogatory language would have been printed in the Observer had it been in relation to another minority group. The Scottish Transgender Alliance will continue to work to improve the positive visibility of trans people. In the meantime we hope that the person responsible for allowing Burchill’s article to be published is held to account and a full public apology issued.”

In 2012 the Scottish Transgender Alliance commissioned the largest study into the mental health of transgender people ever to be published in the UK. The results were “extremely concerning” with 33% of respondents stating that they had attempted to kill themselves as least once in their lives. The STA say that while there are many factors contributing to the high prevalence of mental health difficulties among trans people, “the impact of other people’s negative attitudes should not be overstated”.

51% of respondents said that media portrayals of transgender people had a negative impact on their wellbeing.

One respondent said:

“It is a constant reminder of how much most people despise me for what I am.”

The STA acknowledge that “the public outrage sparked by Burchill’s comments is encouraging”.

A petition on the Care2 petition site demanding an apology from the Guardian Newspaper Group for publishing the article has already gained over 3000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

Guardian News Group have asked their readers’ editor to “investigate the matter”.