The Guardian reports today that the latest social attitudes survey shows that the UK is becoming more liberal in almost every way – with the notable exception of attitudes towards trans people. Since 2016, the first time such attitudes were recorded, people have become much more hostile to trans people:
The proportion of the British public describing themselves as “not prejudiced” towards transgender people fell from 82% to 64% between 2021 and 2022, when the latest survey took place.
So the number of people who say they’re prejudiced against trans people has doubled in a year. That’s astonishing, and horrifying.
What could possibly have happened since the apparent golden age of 2016? If you go through The Guardian and The Observer’s coverage of trans issues in 2016, you’ll see that it’s very different from what they published in 2018, and things are even worse now: it turns out that “occasionally publishes hateful shit”, which was those papers’ position pre-2017, was as good as it was going to get.
The big change in this period, of course, was the arrival of faux-feminist anti-trans groups and their immediate embrace by journalists in the left-wing press as well as the right. That happened in mid-2017 and grew very quickly, and you can see the change in the coverage and the language used.
Initially at least, the anti-trans charge was led not by the right wing press, but by the left – notably the Guardian and The New Statesman. By 2018, the editorial policy of most of the UK press was clearly and often ridiculously anti-trans as the moral panic got into high gear.
This is exactly what we saw in the period leading up to the introduction of Section 28.
As I wrote in my book:
[by 2018] newspapers’ star columnists were regularly railing against the invented evils of “trans activists” who were “silencing women”, and evangelical groups were being given a platform to describe support for trans and non-binary teens as “child abuse”, deliberately and cynically conflating changing gender markers with having “mutilating surgery”. The level of coverage was ridiculously one-sided, completely disproportionate for a minor change affecting such a small minority of people, and was an attempt to direct public opinion rather than reflect it.
And direct it they have: in a very short time the press-driven hate campaign has seen a massive change in people’s attitudes towards legal gender recognition – something that doesn’t affect you at all if you aren’t transgender. From the Guardian report:
while 58% of the British public agreed in 2016 that transgender people should be able to have the sex on their birth certificate changed if they wanted, that figure had dropped to 30% by 2022, suggesting an overall gradual erosion in support towards transgender rights” since 2018.
The law today is the same as it was in 2016. What’s changed is the obsessive coverage of it, and of us.
There’s a long list of villains here: not just the pressure groups and the journalists but the US right, the BBC, Channel 4, social media, the cowardice of the Theresa May government, the skeptics movement, the “mummy bloggers” and Mumsnet, the Hands Across The Aisle coalition and many more. One day somebody who isn’t risking financial ruin under UK libel laws will write the damning exposé the whole sorry saga deserves, hopefully making some of its key actors unemployable in the process. But for now, here’s the issue in a nutshell: since 2016, The UK’s leading left-wing paper has been a crucial part of a highly successful right-wing campaign to promote intolerance of and prejudice against some of the most marginalised people in the country. Well done, everybody.