2019 continues where 2018 left off, with mainstream press continuing to sensationalise long standing policies that give trans women some dignity and privacy.
This morning’s headline, in the Daily Telegraph, was Trans row as men get access to women’s NHS wards. By “men”, the piece subsequently made clear, the Telegraph team were referring to trans women.
This shows the entire campaign in the press has clearly moved to removing existing rights from trans people. Policies which are openly criticised in this way are based on the Equality Act and the Gender Recognition Act, and often based on practice going back many years before that.
The Gender Recognition Act doesn’t require people to undergo genital surgery in order to gain legal recognition. The Equality Act works on the basis of self definition and perception. This means that genitals cannot automatically be used as the basis for determining which ward people are assigned to.
The current campaign has moved beyond opposing the reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Recently it has been focused on existing policy and practice. In short, it’s looking to remove trans people’s existing rights.
However, in order to be successful, at least in any legal way, any such campaign needs to show evidence that these existing rights are being abused. What it can do instead is spread so much fear and misinformation that those providing services start mis-stepping and opening themselves up to litigation. However, taking cases to court is costly, tiring and stressful.
Evidence of abuse of these existing policies is severely lacking. That, in itself, undermines the press case. By expressing surprise at existing policy shows that it has operated successfully for years.
The real story is why trans people are under such attack – why are we suddenly seen as so risky, so dangerous, so much of a problem? Newspaper circulations are falling. Sensation sells. Trans people don’t really have any public voice, and society’s understanding of us is low. So we are an easy target, capable of being misrepresented, lacking media experience, and unlikely to be able to afford legal action.
The press likes to parade itself as campaigning. Whilst trying to say that it only reports what the public want – the defence it used throughout Leveson – it’s proud when it actually shapes public opinion, and frequently tries to do so.
Also, most of the press campaigned for Brexit, and that’s not exactly going well. Distractions are most definitely needed.
When reading these stories, it always helps to ask why they are being published in the first place.