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Lesbians stand by trans women in open letter after 'dangerous' BBC article

The article quotes three unnamed lesbians who said they had been coerced into dating trans women, and used research many have criticized as biased.
The BBC Broadcasting House in London.
The BBC Broadcasting House in London.Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

Lesbians defended transgender women on social media Wednesday after the BBC published an article that many critics said made "dangerous" claims that painted all transgender women as sexual predators.

The article, published Tuesday, is titled "We're being pressured into sex by some trans women." It quotes about half a dozen lesbians —including three who went by pseudonyms and three figureheads from groups that push anti-trans messages, such as the LGB Alliance and Get The L Out — who say cisgender lesbians are being pressured to date trans women out of fear that they'll be criticized for being transphobic. One woman said a trans woman  pressured her into penetrative sex.

The article has faced widespread criticism online and has been denounced by tens of thousands of cisgender women, many of them self-identified lesbians, using the hashtag #CisWithTheT, which was created by Max Morgan, an LGBTQ rights activist and podcaster (cisgender refers to someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth).

"I am a cis lesbian and I am so sick of seeing people who normally don't give a damn about lesbian rights (and who are outright homophobes) tweeting #IStandWithLesbians because they want to claim that all trans people are predators," one person wrote on Twitter. "Your bigotry is not progressive. #CisWithTheT"

The BBC has stood by the article, saying it went through a “rigorous editorial process.”

“The article looks at a complex subject from different perspectives and acknowledges it is difficult to assess the extent of the issue,” a BBC spokesperson said in a statement emailed to NBC News. “It includes testimony from a range of different sources and provides appropriate context. It went through our rigorous editorial processes. It is important that journalism looks at issues — even where there are strongly held positions. The BBC is here to ensure debate and to make sure a wide a range of voices are heard.”

Though many of the critics validated the experience of the woman who said she was assaulted, they noted that the BBC article attempts to "weaponize" her story against all trans women.

"Some more lesbians talking about trans rights.... The reality that the BBC is desperate to obfuscate in an attempt to demonise trans women, and infantilise and weaponise cis women," another person wrote alongside a video of lesbians defending trans women.

Some cis women also criticized the article for attempting to speak for all lesbians.

"Cis lesbian here; I am not threatened by trans women using female spaces (where they belong) or using the term ‘lesbian,'" another woman wrote. "What I /am/ threatened by is people constantly weaponising me against my trans sisters and policing gender non-conformity."

Linda Riley, founder of Lesbian Visibility Week and publisher of Diva, a magazine for LGBTQ women since 1994, wrote on Twitter that, in all her years publishing it, "I have never heard from a lesbian who says she has been pressured into having sex with a Trans woman."

She added that the BBC "is reinforcing myths that are simply not true."

Many argued that the BBC didn't feature "a wide range of voices," and instead platformed known anti-trans groups and cited a survey that violated the BBC’s own editorial guidelines.

The survey, by Get the L Out — a lesbian activist group that advocates for separating the “L” from the acronym “LGBTQ” because it opposes trans rights — found that 56 percent of lesbian respondents reported being pressured or coerced to accept a trans woman as a sexual partner, though critics have noted that the sample size was only 80 people. The BBC's guidelines state that it should not report self-selecting questionnaires "in a way which leads our audience to believe they are more robust than they are."

"If they are of no statistical value and appear to have been promoted only to generate attention for a particular cause or publication, we should exercise real scepticism and consider not using them at all, especially when they are concerned with serious or controversial issues," the guidelines state. Critics say Get the L Out conducted the survey in order to support an anti-trans agenda. The BBC did not comment on criticisms that the study violated its editorial guidelines.

Many also pointed out that the survey’s methodology states it was circulated in “women-only and lesbian-only groups on social media,” meaning the sample appears to have only included people who already oppose trans women being included in women's and lesbians' spaces.

Trans Activism UK, a grassroots transgender rights group, drafted an open letter to the BBC — which it noted is funded by taxpayers — asking that it apologize for the "dangerous" article and amend it “to clarify the falsehoods and damage within.” As of Thursday, the letter has received more than 16,000 signatures.

The BBC wrote an article about the open letter Thursday, but it did not issue an apology or additional comment.

Laura Kate Dale, a 30-year-old writer, activist, author and member of Trans Activism UK, said the BBC's statement in defense of the article is "laughable."

"It’s not 'ensuring debate' when you let anti-trans groups uncritically present their side unchallenged," she said. "Platforming hate is not impartial."

She noted that the article didn't quote even one transgender woman in defense of the community, or any cisgender lesbians who are attracted to or have dated trans women.

"Undoubtedly, this will lead to more hate and violence against the transgender community, in this case particularly trans feminine individuals," Dale said. She added that trans women have been regularly demonized as "potential rapists and perverts" without evidence — similar to how gay and lesbian people were in the '80s.

Dale said the BBC has a history of quoting anti-trans people and organizations uncritically in the last few years. (Some of the BBC’s journalists have also faced criticism for using anti-trans language.)

"Trans people are the latest victim in an ongoing issue we’ve had for decades, where media and news outlets decide that a minority group is the current acceptable villain to cover in pieces which will generate outrage views," she said. "From gay people being painted as bathroom predators, to Muslims being treated as potential terrorists after 9/11, to Eastern European immigrants being painted as the causes of monetary hardship after the financial crash, we need to address the core issue of media outlets deciding it is OK to pick a group and paint them as villainous based on unfounded public fears or isolated examples applied to all."

Dale said Trans Activism UK plans to send an official complaint to the BBC on Friday along with the open letter. Then, on Jan. 8, she and other members of Trans Activism UK plan to organize a protest outside the BBC's London headquarters. She said there will be other unaffiliated groups protesting outside BBC buildings in other cities that day as well.

"We really hope to see those allies who showed up to sign this open letter this week also show up in person to protest the BBC’s treatment and coverage of the trans community more generally, outside of this article, as this will likely not go away as an issue terribly soon," she said.

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