Weaponising media

Detroit Pride this weekend.

Another day, another bunch of saddening headlines: armed neo-Nazis with a police escort intimidating Pride attendees in the US, lesbian women attacked in the street in England, the usual raft of anti-LGBT hatred in the press.

Two UK stories stood out for me, because they demonstrate two elements of the same thing: how anti-trans individuals and groups play the media and social media.

First up, Edinburgh University. An anti-trans event led to the mass resignation of the university’s staff pride network and lurid headlines about an attack on one of the speakers.

The reporting of this has been interesting. The staff pride network quit partly because of the event, but mainly because the university attempted to stop them from publicly criticising it. Fans of irony may want to use the words “silencing” or “erasure” here. They were also appalled by the university’s withdrawal from the Stonewall workplace equality index in “a reversal of the progress that the network has made over the last three years. We feel viscerally upset that the good work over the last three years is being undone.”

For most of the media, however, that wasn’t the story. The story, the bit that appeared in headline after headline, was that one of the speakers, Julie Bindel, was physically attacked by a trans woman.

Except she wasn’t.

Bindel, a well connected journalist and activist, has long agitated against trans people, and tends to attract protest when she speaks: some university LGBT+ groups have attempted to have her events cancelled on the grounds that they encourage hatred of LGBT+ students. Immediately after the Edinburgh event, she tweeted:

I was physically attacked as I left the event for the airport.

Except she wasn’t. She was shouted at.

I’m sure that was frightening, but a professional writer should know the difference between “physically attacked” and “shouted at”. Such as, “shouted at by protester” won’t get you in the papers; “physically attacked” will.

When PinkNews approached her for comment on the apparent difference between what she said on social media and what actually happened, Bindel  said: “I despise your woman-hating, anti-lesbian rag, and would rather give Donald Trump a massage than speak to you.”

It’s as if there’s some kind of agenda here.

Did someone say agenda?

Last week, the NSPCC threw Munroe Bergdorf under the bus. Bergdorf, a trans woman, is hate figure for anti-trans bigots; given the blurred lines between them, the alt-right and racists of various stripes the fact Bergdorf is a woman of colour no doubt played a factor too.

The news that Bergdorf was going to be one of the public faces of the NSPCC’s Childline led to a storm of protest and a cowardly decision by the NSPCC to “cut ties” with her.

The furore was spearheaded by Times columnist Janice “trans people are sacrificing our children” Turner. It claimed that Bergdorf was a “porn model” (a deliberately inflammatory reframing of the fact she once posed for Playboy) who shouldn’t be around children (one of the oldest tropes in the bigots’ playbook) and mobilised Twitter users to say they would cancel their direct debits to the charity.

Was any of it real?

Twitter user Helen, aka MimmyMum (parents of trans kids use pseudonyms on Twitter because of the abuse they’re subjected to) analysed the protesting accounts and found an interesting pattern. They don’t seem to follow the accounts of child protection groups or charities such as the NSPCC. But they do follow the most rabidly anti-trans pressure groups.

It’s as if there’s some kind of agenda here.


Many people have pointed out the apparent double standards of the NSPCC and of the activists here.

Previous Childline/NSPCC ambassadors have included the topless model Melinda Messenger and lingerie model Abby Clancy, neither of whom have attracted the attention of Janice Turner and the “protect children” crowd. By a strange coincidence, Messenger and Clancy are not black or trans. And the NSPCC’s current ambassadors include the cisgender, white, footballer Wayne Rooney, who has been arrested for drunk driving and whose controversial sex life includes many allegations about infidelity and the use of prostitutes. Nobody seems to have a problem with that either.

That the NSPCC could do this while proudly flying the pride rainbow has upset many, including UK Black Pride.  “To the spineless leadership of the NSPCC,” they posted earlier, “remove the rainbow from your branding. You’ve quite the journey ahead to prove you’re worthy of flying our flag.”



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