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Why, Guardian? Why, Observer? Why?

Over the last week, the Guardian and Observer have managed to publish a series of articles in their print editions which have been deeply insulting and upsetting to transgender individuals, including Cheryl Morgan, whose blog I follow and who therefore brought the issue to my attention, as I haven't been reading the paper much over that time period, being in London studying for my dissertation instead.  Some of the articles published have been so shocking, offensive and ugly that I felt more than moved to write a letter to the Readers' Editors of each paper, demanding that apologies be printed and a right of reply given; and that in future such content not be printed.  Whether this will happen or not I can only speculate, but I urge you to read my letter, follow the links at least to the Guardian and Observer articles from the last week, and please, make your feelings known to these supposedly socially responsible and tolerant newspapers.

          Dear Messrs. Elliot & Pritchard,

Whilst the Guardian and Observer are editorially independent bodies, over the last seven days both publications have been running an extraordinary series of stories, online and in their print editions, attacking and denigrating transgendered and transsexual individuals.  This started with the article published online on January 6th and in the print edition of the Guardian the next day, January 7th, by David Batty, entitled ‘Doctor under fire for alleged errors prescribing sex-change hormones’[1].  The article was written by a reporter whose beat is described as “visual art, higher education, the Middle East and social affairs”, rather than either legal or medical matters, and who has a well-documented history at the Guardian of negative coverage of transgender issues[2]; and its inaccuracies have been laid out at length by various interested parties (as, for instance, at)[3].

Following this, the Guardian did publish an online comment piece by Jane Fae in response to the Twitter outcry under the hashtag #TransDocFail[4], but on the same day, the Guardian also chose to publish a piece by Suzanne Moore entitled ‘I don't care if you were born a woman or became one’[5], which came out in the print edition of the Guardian dated January 10th. Whilst the headline suggests an acceptance of transgender and transsexual individuals, the text of the article itself displayed antipathy and prejudice towards transgendered individuals that is unacceptable, for instance when Moore wrote:

Others I knew had sex changes. Or transitioning, as it is now called. Mostly this seemed to be an obsession with secondary sexual characteristics: peeing sitting down if they had been a man, wearing horrible lumberjack shirts and refusing to wash up if they had been a woman. The radical fluidity of gender vaporised. Some trans people appeared to reinforce every gender stereotype going.


So to be told that I hate transgender people feels a little ... irrelevant. Other people's genital arrangements are less interesting to me than the breakdown of the social contract.

It is worth noting that this was written in an article Moore published as a defence against transphobia on a platform given to her by the Guardian in the wake of an article including the line “not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual”[6].  No transgender person was commissioned to write a response to Moore’s piece, or explain what the problem was with it, whilst Moore was allowed an unchallenged platform to put forth her offensive and harmful views, despite the Guardian Editorial Code’s section on Fairness[7].

nbsp;          In yesterday’s Observer (January 13th), a piece by Julie Burchill was published in defence of Suzanne Moore, entitled ‘Transsexuals should cut it out’[8]. Whilst intended, to be as charitable as possible to Burchill, it was perhaps intended satirically, but if so this was far from evident in a text that concluded

Shims, shemales, whatever you're calling yourselves these days – don't threaten or bully us lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging Phds as you, but we've experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching. Trust me, you ain't seen nothing yet. You really won't like us when we're angry.

and included a comparison between transgendered women and the Black and White Minstrel Show. Such language is representative of the piece, rather than being exceptional, and seeing this in the Observer, a respectable broadsheet, was deeply disturbing, since the piece deployed language inappropriate under any circumstances and more normally found amongst abusers of transgendered individuals than in a national newspaper. This is made more troubling by noting that the Guardian Editorial Code (which appears to also apply to the Observer) explicitly states that “we should not casually use words that are likely to offend”, and indeed that the PCC Code of Practice states that “[t]he press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability”[9]. Indeed, were a commenter to post something akin to Burchill’s article, they would be in serious breach of the Terms of Service of the Guardian website[10].

nbsp;          As a long-time reader of both the Guardian and the Observer, I find it hard to express my shock at the publication of these pieces under any circumstances, and it seems many others agree, as the Independent is rapidly demonstrating[11]. That the only response so far published by the Guardian and Observer has been published only online[12], and according to its article history will not be published in today’s Guardian (January 14th), nor are there any plans to place it in the Observer of January 20th; and that no public apology or statement about either Suzanne Moore’s or Julie Burchill’s articles has been forthcoming from the Guardian and Observer is deeply saddening, especially given the extremely offensive language of the latter piece.

nbsp;          I hope that you will, together, discuss the editorial tone of the Guardian and Observer in their coverage of transgender issues, and alongside Alan Rusbridger and John Mulholland find a way forward in the coverage of transgender issues that honours C. P. Scott’s maxim that “[i]t is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair”, neither of which the Guardian and Observer have been in their coverage of transgender issues over the last seven days.


Daniel Franklin
            [Address and phone number redacted]

[7] Fairness “The voice of opponents no less than of friends has a right to be heard . . . It is well be to be frank; it is even better to be fair” (CP Scott, 1921). The more serious the criticism or allegations we are reporting the greater the obligation to allow the subject the opportunity to respond. http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2011/08/08/EditorialGuidelinesAug2011.pdf?intcmp=239, page 4

[10] “You agree not to (i) post content which is deliberately intended to upset or harm other users; (ii) use the Guardian Site to post or otherwise transmit content that victimises, harasses, degrades, or intimidates an individual or group of individuals on the basis of any impermissible classification, including, without limitation, religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, color, creed, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship, age, marital status, military status or disability” Extracted from Clause 6: User Content (http://www.guardian.co.uk/help/terms-of-service)


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 14th, 2013 08:57 am (UTC)
Ah, Julie Burchill. Most of us had forgotten she ever existed. She must be delighted with the furore she's causing. She used to pull this sort of attention-seeking shit-stirring all the time: it's basically her only schtick. Sad really.
Jan. 14th, 2013 01:30 pm (UTC)
I'm rather hoping that it's going to result in every media outlet running the hell away from her, and therefore she's going to end up rather less delighted with it all. She did say some truly sickening things, after all...
Jan. 14th, 2013 02:17 pm (UTC)
We can hope. At times various papers have run away from her, but generally, her whole career has been outbursts like this: that's the point. (I forget who it was that described her whole career as being like a toddler having a tantrum, but it's true.) she's just a joke anyway. I'd rather see her slide further into her undignified irrelevance.
Jan. 14th, 2013 07:37 pm (UTC)
Wow. o.O Let us know if you get a response?
Jan. 14th, 2013 07:42 pm (UTC)
So far, just a (rather patronising) form response from the Observer side of things and nothing from the Guardian side:

"Thank you for your email, you did the right thing in sending your message to The Observer's dedicated Readers' editor.

all good wishes
Helen Hodgson
Assistant Readers' editor"

Although it's worth noting that the original post by Burchill has since been taken down and a rather missing-the-point and disingenuous apology from John Mulholland posted on the Guardian site.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


reading, books
Daniel Franklin


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