A brief career with GBNews
I have been wondering about writing this piece for a week or two, but it seems to have become more urgent in the past day or so after the domino suspensions (departures?) of Fox, Wootton and Robinson, and entry, stage left of GBNews Angelos Frangopoulos, pursued by the bear’ of OfCom.
Readers will know that I am a barrister and, a little over a decade ago, became Britain’s first trans discrimination barrister by swapping ‘Mr’ for ‘Ms’. I have appeared in some ground-breaking and law-making trans cases and am joint author of the only specialist legal text in the area. I speak regularly on trans matters, and unlike some ‘tribal’ barristers, I have appeared both for and against trans claimants and for and against ‘gender-critical’ individuals: code for those unsupportive of trans people or the accommodations that society has made for us.
Whilst the existence of trans people is (self-evidently) not up for debate, the accommodations and freedoms trans people enjoy are still developing, and if we want them maintained, strengthened or expanded then we need to explain to our fellow citizens why those things are important and fair. It is also important to be visible because polling shows that folk who know a trans person are much more likely to be favourably disposed towards trans people.
I think that is because a real person, who could be your doctor, lawyer, beat policeman, county councillor, train driver or neighbour (all positions held by trans friends) tends to debunk the view of trans people as paedophiles and criminals promoted by anti-trans organisations like Sex Matters, Transgender Trend the LGB Alliance and their mouthpieces such as Maya Forstater and Ann Sinnott. For all these reasons, I believe in trans visibility and as a person of reasonable fortitude, believe I have something of a duty to be visible.
And so it was that I accepted an invitation to speak on the UK Government’s blocking of the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill on Andrew Doyle’s ‘Free Speech Nation’ show one evening last January, matched against Sarah Philimore, a family law barrister from Bristol who is not backward in expressing her (negative) views of trans people. I gave evidence to the Scottish parliamentary committee on the Bill and had attended the debates at Holyrood. What Sarah’s standing to comment was never clear beyond her view that trans people having rights and protections appears to be a bad thing. I made plain to GBNews that (1) I was there to talk about the issue, not myself, and (2) I would expect an appropriate balance between us.
The piece began.
A pattern now began to emerge.
Instead of keeping to the topic, Sarah launched a personal attack on me. I ignored it. Andrew Doyle looked perplexed and moved us on to the next part of the discussion. I should say that Sarah had referred to me as ‘Robin’ throughout to avoid using any pronouns.
If you listen to the piece on YouTube this aspect of her speech comes across as very stilted. Towards the end, Sarah tried again with a personal attack, misquoting something I had said previously about not having vocal surgery to allege that I had made choices to maintain male privilege. As well as being just plain wrong, this also had nothing to do with the subject we were there to discuss. Andrew allowed me to correct Sarah. After the slot had finished, I was approached by Nana Akua, another GBNews presenter. She thanked me for coming on and asked if I might appear on her show.
I said that I was quite happy to but wasn’t there to be personally attacked. Sure enough, the invitation came a few weeks later, and I repeated my concern to the program assistant. She assured me that the discussion would be about the topic proposed, and there would be no personal attacks.
So once again I made my way to GBNews’ Paddington studio. This time, Sarah Philimore had set a trap for me. Unbeknown to me, she had messaged her supporters on social media to say that she intended to misgender me. This time we were on for about 20 minutes. Bullies are usually cowards, and true to that form, Sarah slipped in a very quiet mention of me as ‘he’ in the closing seconds of the piece.
Just as an aside, for those who don’t know ‘misgendering’ (referring to someone by the gender they have rejected) and ‘deadnaming’ (referring to someone by the gendered name they have rejected) is about the most insulting thing you can do to a trans person.
I have to say that I was rather taken aback. Had I heard correctly? Had she really said it? I concluded that she had but that it was better not to complain in the closing moments of the piece. I doubt that presented Nana had noticed. But Sarah’s supporters had and were crowing on social media about her getting away with it shortly thereafter. That is how the pre-meditatation was brought to my notice.
I contacted GBNews the next day and complain. My complaint was passed up the chain and came to lodge with GBNews Editorial Director Michael Booker. We spoke more than once and I asked what action GBNews would take to reassure future panellists of proper treatment. What were the appropriate GBNews policies? He said that he needed to consult the editorial team. And …
I could, of course, have taken this to Ofcom.
Perhaps I should have. But the early part of this year was very difficult for me in health terms, and it all seemed just too much trouble. If a broadcaster has no standards, what difference would a regulatory ruling make. I decided to concentrate on getting well.
Three final comments, though.
Firstly, without some proper policies and standards in place, GBNews is not a safe space for trans people to speak freely. This is a disappointment to me as we need respectful discussion in this space.
Secondly, both presenters acted entirely properly; any fault lies with the station.
Lastly, I will be watching very closely what happens with Fox, Wootton and Robinson.