A five point plan to hate and hurt people

A poster on Twitter reminded me of this 2016 story about the evangelical Family Research Council. It’s about the FRC’s five-point plan describing how to demonise trans people and make it impossible for them to live their lives.

This isn’t a conspiracy theory. It’s on the FRC website, with the usual widely debunked nonsense.

The points were:

  1. Policy-makers should strenuously resist efforts to legally recognize changes of sex or gender identity.
  2. The government shouldn’t force private entities to accept and recognise trans people’s gender identity, or protect them from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, education and business transactions.
  3. The government shouldn’t pay for trans people’s transition-related healthcare.
  4. Health insurance shouldn’t pay for trans people’s transition-related healthcare.
  5. Trans people shouldn’t be permitted to serve in the military.

As the Twitter user pointed out, it’s kinda difficult to tell the difference between that plan, current US policy and the “talking points” of anti-trans campaigners both in the US and in the UK.

As the article, by Brynn Tannehill, put it:

Stop for a moment here, and imagine a world where you can’t get an accurate government ID. A world where you can’t vote, can’t drive without risking arrest, and can’t get a job. You cannot prove that you are who you are, because no one will believe your ID is real. You will never be treated as your correct gender by any government agency. What ID you have will constantly out you as transgender, inviting discrimination. Perfectly legal discrimination, if part two of their plan succeeds.

Now imagine being constantly outed as transgender in this world where the law explicitly states that you are a target. Imagine having that scarlet A on every ID you possess making it clear that the bearer of this card is sub-human and has no rights: fire them, kick them out of their home, refuse to serve them, take their children away, verbally abuse them for your amusement at work—it’s all good.

This is all because in the eyes of the anti-trans crowd, trans people were born a certain way and must not be allowed to change it. If we try, we’re subhuman.

Imagine if they said the same things about infertile couples taking IVF.

Sophie-Grace Chappell writes for the American Philosophical Association and compares the treatment of trans people to that of adoptive parents.

Nobody sensible thinks that it’s all right, when you find out that someone is an adoptive parent, to get in her face and shout “Biology! Science! You’re running away from the facts! You’re delusional! You’re not a real parent!”

…Nobody sensible thinks that it’s an infraction of Jordan Peterson’s human rights to impose on him a social, ethical, and sometimes even legal requirement that he call adoptive parents “parents.”

…Nobody sensible thinks that adoptive parents are, typically and as such, a threat to other parents. Or that they only went in for adoptive parenting as a way to get their hands on vulnerable children or vulnerable parents.

Of course, organisations such as the FRC are against same-sex adoption and lesbian couples having IVF too, but the difference is that their views are not presented as mainstream and echoed every single week in major newspapers and all over social media by people who claim to be feminists.

The FRC is a US organisation but its hands reach across the Atlantic in the form of the Hands Across The Aisle Coalition, whose founder is regularly and approvingly quoted by UK anti-trans activists on social media. The coalition lists the UK groups Fair Play For Women and Transgender Trend among its members.

TT is the group responsible for the anti-trans materials sent to UK schools, and it and Fair Play For Women are the source of much of the anti-trans rent-a-quote stuff you see in the Mail on Sunday and other newspapers. TT’s crowdfunding campaigns are promoted by right-wing sites such as Breitbart.

It’s very odd to see supposed feminists becoming best pals with virulent anti-abortionists and conservatives who hate women.

Brynn Tannehill has written about that too, in the aftermath of the anti-trans disruption of London Pride:

These right-wing organizations don’t try to hide their relationship with so-called feminists. Indeed, they proudly display it in order to create the illusion that both the left and the right oppose inclusion of trans people in society. In reality, only one side’s interests are being represented here ― the radical religious right.

…They are all anti-choice. They all want to ban access to birth control. They universally want to overturn Lawrence v. Texas and allow states to make homosexuality illegal again. They want to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, and Roe v. Wade. They want to ban same-sex adoption. They all are hostile to fair-pay-for-women laws. They oppose women working outside the home. They are all hostile to the Women’s March and Me Too. They are fake medical organizations and anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice hate groups. They have cheered the assassinations of abortion providers. They are publications that have published horrible things about women, such as “Does Feminism Make Women Ugly?”

This isn’t a choice between transgender people and women. This is a choice between trans people and right-wing organizations pretending to represent women.

Some of the anti-trans activists on social media hate trans people because they’re bigots: many of them have espoused straight-up racism and antisemitism too. But many of the people calling trans-inclusive women “handmaidens” are apparently unaware that they’re doing the work of the US religious right.

Evangelicals’ bigotry didn’t go away when the battle for equal marriage was won. They just changed tactics and went looking for new friends. Sadly, they seem to be finding an awful lot of them.

Mobile phones still don’t cause cancer

No it can’t.

When it comes to conspiracy theories, there are two kinds of theorists: the batshit insane, and the people who genuinely believe they’ve stumbled on a conspiracy.

There was a good example of what I assume is the latter last week in The Observer, which published an astonishing piece about the link between mobile phones and cancer. It turns out that mobile phones really do cause cancer, and there’s a global conspiracy to cover it up.

No they don’t, and no there isn’t.

This is something I know a fair bit about, because I’ve covered the subject a lot over the last two decades. Whether it’s phones or wireless networks, every now and then someone comes along and misunderstands the science to conclude that our brains are being cooked and there’s a conspiracy to cover it up.

Part of the problem is the word “radiation”. We assume that all radiation is ionising radiation, the kind that gives you skin cancer. But radiation also includes the radio waves that bring you Radio Scotland and the light waves coming from your light bulbs.

The radiation from phones and wireless routers is very low powered, non-ionising radiation. As far as science is aware, there is no possible way the radiation from these devices can cause cancer.

The Observer has run a follow-up piece this week, this time by somebody who knows the science. It gives the authors of the previous article a very polite but very thorough kicking.

That the authors attribute this lack of evidence for their claims to the machinations of a nebulous big telecoms is indicative of a mindset more conspiratorial than sceptical… Scaremongering narratives may be more alluring than the less sensational, scientific findings, but they are not harmless. We need only look at any vaccine panic to see the cost in human life when superstition outpaces science. In an age where misinformation can perpetuate rapidly, it can be difficult to parse fact from fiction, but it’s imperative that we hone our scientific scepticism rather than succumb to baseless panics – our very wellbeing depends on it.

If you’re a journalist considering writing an “ordinary thing causes cancer!” piece it’s worth applying Occam’s Razor, which suggests that the simplest explanation is the most likely. Which is more likely: a) there’s a global conspiracy that’s willingly sacrificing thousands or even millions of lives and which has operated for decades without leaving any evidence whatsoever, or b) you’ve got it wrong?

A journalist’s job is to report what the evidence says, not to cherry-pick the evidence to support the story the journalist wants to tell.

The right words matter

Dr Louise Raw on Twitter:

Every time @DailyMirror reports a domestic violence murder I have to @ them about their repugnant coverage.

A FLING DID NOT DESTROY THIS FAMILY. A FLING DID NOT KILL ANNE SEARLE. HER HUSBAND DID.  A woman died in terror- this is a tragedy, not a sexy romp.

This is an example of something that’s very common in newspaper reports, especially reports of domestic violence and other violence against women. These are real examples:

BBQ dad “killed 6 over wife’s affair” (The Sun)

Breakup Ignited Dad’s Deadly Rage (Seattle Times)

Dad Killed 5 Kids Because Wife Was Leaving (Yahoo News)

and from BBC Scotland News today:

Jealous Kilmarnock husband’s ‘frenzied knife attack’ on wife

These are just randomly chosen examples, but they all have the same thing in common: the implication that if it weren’t for the woman’s behaviour or decisions, the crimes wouldn’t have happened. Similarly in the Mirror example above, the implication is that if the wife hadn’t had a “fling”, her husband wouldn’t have killed her.

You’ll see similar headlines about rape, where the crime is framed in terms of the victim’s behaviour, dress or sobriety. And you’ll often find the subtext carried across to the body copy, which goes into great detail about what a nice guy the man was.

The reality is that very many abusers and murderers are nice guys. The majority of violence against women is perpetrated by their current or former partners. The majority of abuse of children is perpetrated by relatives or step-relatives.

We don’t want to think of our neighbours, our cousins, our partners as potential criminals because it’s too terrifying – so when it is a perfectly ordinary guy, we attempt to explain it away instead. There are some fascinating studies into this, and the concept of the “ideal criminal” as a complete stranger.

Jane Gilmore’s #FixedIt campaign attempts to highlight the problem. She corrects “Belfast man to spend three years on probation for Lagan Towpath Sex Assault” to “…for sexually assaulting a woman”; “staff subjected to abuse” becomes “man chokes woman”; man “planning sex with 2yo” is corrected to “planning rape and sexual abuse of 2yo”, because of course raping a toddler isn’t sex.

Gilmore is a journalist, and she wants her peers to do better.

…it is not our job to erase the truth so our audience is not made to feel uncomfortable. Our job is to describe what is happening in our society. And the sad truth is that around 90 percent of violent crimes are committed by men. Avoiding this fact doesn’t make it less true but it does make it much more difficult to address the underlying cause.

And you wonder why we’re cranky

This is from Sky News.

It’d be funny if it weren’t serious. Trans activists aren’t campaigning for this, because IT’S THE LAW.

The relevant law is the Equality Act 2010, which formalised something that’s been common practice for decades.

What’s actually happening is that bigots are telling blatant lies about the law and trans people, and mainstream media outlets such as Sky News are parroting those lies.

The word “bathroom” is telling here, because it’s the US word for toilet. So-called “bathroom bills” are a deliberate tactic by US evangelical right-wingers to try and divide the LGBT community by painting trans women as predators. They used to say the same things about gay men and lesbian women.

It’s funny how Sky News, owned by News Corp, keeps running really misleading stories about trans people while The Sun, owned by News Corp, keeps running really misleading stories about trans people.  Meanwhile The Times and Sunday Times, which are owned by News Corp, keep running really misleading stories about trans people. In other countries, publications owned by News Corp run nasty stories about trans people too: in Australia last week the Sunday Telegraph was condemned for using the slur “tranny” in a headline.

News Corp is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch has suggested boycotting Guinness for its support of LGBT groups, accused Hillary Clinton of fascism when she spoke against anti-LGBT discrimination, and supported an openly homophobic US presidential candidate who believes gay marriage is a “marxist plot”.

I wonder if these things could be connected.

We don’t see the same things when we see the same things

Here’s a fascinating piece by Monica Hesse in the Washington Post: her (white, male) friend Tom felt that white men were vanishing from TV, so she sent him links to evidence that they weren’t. “I felt Tom was watching TV from another planet,” she recalls. Hesse tried to prove that Tom was wrong with easily verifiable statistics.

It didn’t work.

Tom diligently read these stats but was convinced that they didn’t represent what he saw.

“I’ve noticed it,” he told me. “I’ve noticed white men aren’t there. I’m not making this up.”

If you’ve ever debated anything on the internet you’ll be familiar with this: the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that somebody is wrong, but they refuse to accept that the evidence is accurate. That’s because we’re not as rational as we think we are.

As Hesse notes, “Our worldviews are shaped by our experiences. We all obsess over our own scars until we start to think they’re symbols for broader injustice. We believe what we feel. And then we believe our feelings are facts.”

There’s also the issue of investment. It’s much easier to fool somebody than to get someone to admit they’ve been fooled. There’s a point in many debates where one party will simply shut it down and refuse to engage any further.

As Hesse writes:

How do you address beliefs when they’re not rooted in reality? How do you tell someone, I’m trying to treat your fears seriously, but your facts don’t exist? How, as individuals, and how, as a country?

Follow the money

Have you been wondering how the odious racist Tommy Robinson has managed to attract so much apparent support? The answer’s simple. He’s being bankrolled by US right-wingers.

This is by no means unusual. US evangelicals are driving anti-trans groups over here and tried to derail the Irish campaign to repeal anti-abortion law. The Russians, as you may have noticed, are pulling all kinds of strings. But it’s rarely quite so overt. This is a press release from the US Middle East Foundation, a right-wing, anti-Muslim group with deep pockets:

MEF is sponsoring and organizing the second “Free Tommy Robinson” gathering in London on July 14. MEF previously provided all the funding and helped organized the first “Free Tommy Robinson” event held June 9 in London.

…The Middle East Forum is aiding Mr. Robinson’s defense in three main ways:

  • Legally – By using Legal Project monies to fund his legal defense.
  • Diplomatically – By bringing foreign pressure on the UK government to ensure Mr. Robinson’s safety and eventual release.
  • Politically – By organizing and funding the 25,000-person “Free Tommy” London rally on June 9 and now the July 14 protest, also taking place in London.

It’s not a conspiracy theory when the conspirators publish press releases about what they’ve done.

Brace yourself for the backlash

The UK government publishes its new LGBT strategy today. Part of the strategy includes publishing the findings of a survey that show – surprise! – life is often really shit for LGBT people.

The plans include improved hate crime protection, a ban on dangerous quackery such as conversion therapy (aka “pray the gay away” cures for being gay or trans), reform of the Gender Recognition Act to make things less bureaucratic and other positive things.

Much of the strategy only applies to England, as a lot of LGBT-related issues are covered by devolved legislation. But the anti-LGBT backlash we’ll see online and in the media will affect the entire UK and beyond.

I don’t envy equalities minister Penny Mordaunt, who’s trying to improve things and reform the Gender Recognition Act in a climate where just 13% of Conservative voters think the GRA should be reformed (coincidentally, the vast majority of anti-trans misinformation and outright falsehoods about GRA reform is printed in newspapers and periodicals read primarily by Conservative voters; The Guardian and New Statesman do their best to compete, but their circulations are tiny by comparison):

The current process doesn’t work for people. It’s overly bureaucratic and it’s highly medicalized with people making decisions about you who have never met you.

There’s also huge inconsistencies throughout the process – you have one identification document in one sex and another in another.

It doesn’t work, it needs to be radically improved, and that’s why we’re going to consult on that. Really the outcome we’re looking for is that people are supported through that process… it is a challenging enough thing to go through without the state and its bureaucracy adding to people’s stresses.

We will get the best results from this consultation if it is done in that environment with people being sensible, people looking at the facts and not making things up, and ensuring people are respected.

There hasn’t been much in the way of facts or respect so far.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think the next couple of months are going to see some really shameful reporting of LGBT issues and more demonisation of trans people in supposedly respectable publications, as well as online. Some of it will have the dread hand of religious evangelism behind it; some will be from people building personal media brands by stepping on vulnerable people; all of it will be damaging.

Knowing that the perpetrators are on the wrong side of history doesn’t make the present any easier to live through.

If you would like to better understand the truth about being LGBT in the UK, the Government has published its full survey online. It’s available here in PDF format.

Words and weapons

Another day, another mass killing in America by a man who – surprise! – has a history of troubling behaviour towards women.

The target, the Capital Gazette newspaper, had previously reported the shooter’s online harassment of a woman; he tried and failed to sue them. So three years later, he picked up a gun instead.

The shooter, Jarrod Ramos, appears to be a Trump supporter.

President Trump has previously said of journalists: “I would never kill them, but I do hate them.” This week, he once again referred to mainstream news journalists as “the enemy of the people”, a claim he’s been making for two years now. Also this week, alt-right darling and thoroughly reprehensible troll Milo Yiannopoulous said he couldn’t wait for “vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.”

You don’t need to be a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.

No, the government hasn’t said it’s okay to discriminate

Imagine I started a petition claiming that the government was going to ban bees and demanding that it didn’t.

“We’re not going to ban bees,” the government would respond. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

How would you report that? Would you:

(a) Conclude that ‘arseholes create petition about imaginary problem’ wasn’t newsworthy in the first place?

(b) Write a brief story noting that some arseholes created a petition and that the government told them to get stuffed?

Or (c) Run the story with the headline “Bee friends force government into humiliating climbdown”?

If you chose (c), you’re probably writing about trans issues for national newspapers.

(I have a more mature version of this going live on Metro today, where I’m not allowed to call people “arseholes” or say “fuck”).

Over the weekend, multiple newspapers ran a story that the government said trans people can be banned from toilets, changing rooms and other single-sex spaces.

That isn’t true. Doing so is illegal.

Here’s what actually happened.

  • Anti-trans activists created a petition demanding the government consults them before changing existing equality legislation;
  • The government politely told them to fuck off on the grounds that they aren’t considering changing existing equality legislation.

To see that presented as a victory for anti-trans campaigners is quite something.

Here’s how the law works. Under the Equality Act, which has been in force for eight years now, you cannot discriminate against trans people. In very specific circumstances, such as women’s refuges, you can exclude trans people provided that doing so is legitimate and proportionate.

Over to you, Stonewall:

The exemptions in the law (which the Government referred to) only apply where services can demonstrate that excluding a trans person is absolutely necessary, for example, if inclusion would put that trans person at risk. However, these exemptions are rarely used and in almost all situations trans people are treated equally as is required by our equality laws.

…This kind of reporting also doesn’t reflect reality; trans people can and have been using toilets that match their gender for years without issue. This is another media-generated ‘debate’, and it’s actually having a negative effect on many people who aren’t trans too; people whose appearance doesn’t fit the stereotypes of male or female are increasingly being challenged for simply going into a public loo.

This lazy and/or wilful misreporting is dangerous. It completely misrepresents the law, and it’s contributing to a culture that’s already seen cisgender (ie, not trans) women chased out of bathrooms for not looking feminine enough. Trans people are victims, and newspapers repeatedly take the side of the bullies.

If you’re regurgitating press releases from pressure groups and failing to check even the simplest facts, you shouldn’t be in journalism.


It’s okay to be offensive if you’re a white guy

There’s a good piece in The Pool by Yomi Adegoke about Alan Sugar’s racist tweet, or rather the reaction to it from media types such as the odious Piers Morgan.

As Adegoke points out, there does appear to be a double standard here. When a black presenter says something that appears to be racist, they’re gone. White presenters? Not so much.

It’s interesting to contrast Morgan’s spirited defence of Alan Sugar, who is white, with his criticism of trans model Munroe Bergdorf, who is not.

According to Morgan, Bergdorf was “rightly fired” from her role at L’Oreal for “calling all white people violent racists.” That isn’t quite what she said, but Morgan’s never been great at facts. As far as Morgan is concerned, because Bergdorf said something he finds “deeply offensive”, it’s right and proper that she should lose her job.

Adegoke’s piece notes that Morgan doesn’t feel the same way when it’s white people being deeply offensive about black people.

If only there was a word for somebody who treats people differently based on the colour of their skin.

Incidentally, I was at the recording of a (non-broadcast) TV show pilot the other night where one of the topics was offensive speech. It was introduced via an unfunny video by a straight, white, cisgender male comedian who said that he had the right to say whatever he wanted and if anyone had a problem with it they should just fuck off.

The issue was then discussed by the three panellists, two of whom were straight, white, cisgender men (a pundit and a comedian respectively). They concluded that the right of straight, white, cisgender male pundits and comedians to offend people was much more important than minorities’ right to be treated with dignity and respect. One panellist disagreed with them and attempted to explain the importance of intent and context, but she was a woman so her opinions didn’t count.