Exclusive: Genderquake audience were allegedly ‘encouraged to heckle’ trans panellists during Channel 4 debate

Audience members at a controversial televised debate about gender claim they were “encouraged to heckle” panellists, including transgender activists Caitlyn Jenner and Munroe Bergdorf, by the programme’s producers.

Bergdorf, a prominent trans model and activist, was taunted with shouts of “penis” from the audience during Tuesday’s Genderquake: The Debate on Channel 4. During the live broadcast she called for hecklers to be removed from the audience.

However, both pro-trans and anti-trans activists said that members of production staff instructed the audience to participate in the debate with “hisses and cheers.”

Genderquake: The Debate was part of Genderquake, a Channel 4 strand of programmes exploring the changes in how gender is seen in modern society. The televised debate touched on the highly-debated topics of gender and transgender rights.

Host Cathy Newman and Germaine Greer (Channel 4)

Jenner and Bergdorf were joined in the debate by feminist author Germaine Greer, who has made crude remarks in the past about transgender women, and journalist Sarah Ditum.

Professor Stephen Whittle, who is a professor of Equalities Law at Manchester Metropolitan University, attended the debate. He said that production staff had originally told the audience to be respectful. However, moments before broadcast, the spectators were encouraged to be vocal and participate in the debate.

Whittle wrote on Twitter that the audience were told to “clap and cheer if you like something, sigh and hiss if you don’t.” A producer then said, “don’t forget, make yourself heard – both for and against what you hear.”

(@StephenWhittle / Twitter)

Whittle told PinkNews that a producer addressed the 80-strong audience moments before the live broadcast began and said, “We want to hear you, we want to hear you clap loudly.”

“We want to hear you vocalise what you think, this is a controversial debate, we want to hear what you think,” the producer said, according to Whittle.

During the debate, members of the audience shouted “penis” at Jenner and Bergdorf, as well as other heckles that were not heard during the broadcast.

Whittle told PinkNews that the seats in the audience were assigned. He believes this was done to put the most controversial spectators in view of the cameras.

(Channel 4)

In response to Whittle’s statement, Channel 4 said the audience was told they could react to the debate, provided that they were respectful.

“As with any live debate programme the audience were told they were free to react to what they heard as long it was always in a respectful manner,” a Channel 4 spokesperson said.

Other audience members have also stated that production staff encouraged people to participate and heckle, including a noted anti-trans activist who writes under the pseudonym Posie Parker.

Parker alleged that debate host Cathy Newman, who also presents Channel 4 News, personally encouraged the audience members to heckle, though this has been refuted by other audience members. Newman did not respond to PinkNews’ requests for comment.

( @ThePosieParker / Twitter)

Parker wrote on Twitter: “Cathy Newman told people to engage, the heckling was asked for… it was a set up.”

Parker has also stated in forum posts on parenting website Mumsnet that audience members were “repeatedly encouraged to heckle.”

In a statement to PinkNews, Channel 4 and ITN Productions, which produced Genderquake for Channel 4, firmly denied allegations that they encouraged the heckling.

A spokesperson for Channel 4 stated: “It is categorically incorrect to say that disrespectful heckling was encouraged in any way. We take the duty of care to contributors very seriously and will not tolerate abuse of any type.

“This was a live programme on a subject that many people on all sides have strong views about. Audience members were told that they could react to what they heard as long it was always in a respectful manner.”

Munroe Bergdorf at the debate (Channel 4)

The joint statement continued: “As the show was live, the small number of audience members who made some comments that members of the panel found offensive were reprimanded on air by our presenter and reminded that such behaviour was disrespectful and offensive.

“The vast majority of the audience showed open mindedness and goodwill towards those taking part.”

In a previous statement to PinkNews on Wednesday, Channel 4 said that members of the Genderquake debate audience were “carefully selected.”

“Channel 4 takes the duty of care to contributors very seriously and will not tolerate abuse of any type,” a spokesperson said. “The audience was carefully selected to ensure a balanced and broad mix of views and briefed in advance to be respectful at all times.”

At least two members of the audience have been censured or investigated in recent months for anti-transgender sentiment.

In February, Posie Parker, real name Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, was interviewed under caution by police for allegedly harassing the CEO of trans children’s charity Mermaids, Susie Green, on social media.

Susie Green at the 2017 PinkNews Awards (Chris Jepson for PinkNews)

Prominent anti-trans activist Venice Allan, also seen in the audience during Tuesday’s debate, was suspended by Twitter in March. Allan had regularly used her Twitter handle, @DrRadFem, to share anti-trans rhetoric.

Allan was also the central organiser of a parliamentary event in March where transgender women were repeatedly compared to parasites.

Channel 4 and ITN told PinkNews audience members were chosen due to their public profiles and they were unaware of any current criminal investigations.

“We sought to bring together a wide variety of voices – including inviting people from many organisations including the trans community, LGBTQ, women’s groups and political societies and organisations with an interest in the subject in order to provide a balanced debate setting,” said a spokesperson.

“They were identified by ITN researchers due to their public profile.”

The statement continued: “ITN carried out due diligence on the audience and to our knowledge none of those chosen to potentially speak during the debate had any live criminal proceedings against them.”


On Wednesday, Bergdorf spoke out about transphobic heckling directed at both her and Jenner during the debate.

(@MunroeBergdorf / Twitter)

She wrote on Twitter: “We were both subjected to transphobic heckling from TERF feminists in the audience of the debate, calling us men, comparing trans women to sexual predators and shouting ‘penis’ at us over and over again for one hour on live national television.”

At one point during the debate, Bergdorf asked host Newman to have one particularly vocal member of the audience removed.

“We agreed to be part of a panel discussion, not be subjected to transphobic abuse,” she said.

When asked why the audience member in question was not removed from the debate, Channel 4 responded: “As with any live broadcast we had a clear protocol for dealing with disruptive behaviour.

“The small number of audience members who made some comments that members of the panel found offensive were reprimanded repeatedly live on air by our presenter and reminded that such behaviour was disrespectful and offensive.

“At all times the safety of the panellists and audience members was paramount.”

(Creative Commons)

The debate and the subsequent allegations of encouraged heckling have been sharply condemned by many trans rights groups.

Speaking on behalf of Trans Media Watch, journalist and author Jane Fae, said: “We are truly shocked by these allegations. To be honest, we did not at first believe them: we assumed that some of those involved in the heckling were so ashamed of their behaviour that they were seeking to blame Channel 4.

“However, we have since received further reports suggesting that the Channel 4 production team did, indeed, incite the audience to heckle the speakers with the inevitable result that trans members of the panel were subject to extreme hate.

“We have asked for an urgent meeting with Channel 4 – but have not yet heard back from them.”

Prior to Tuesday’s broadcast, several prominent trans activists confirmed they were approached by Channel 4 but declined to take part, including broadcaster India Willoughby and writer Shon Faye.

In an open letter to Channel 4, other campaigners including Fox Fisher, Owl, Susie Green, Travis Alabanza, and Jack Monroe criticised Channel 4 for hosting the debate, calling the programme “counterproductive.”

Representatives for Munroe Bergdorf declined to comment.