Trans campaigner quits comment awards over ‘anti-trans writer’ being nominated

Helen Belcher, co-founder of charity Trans Media Watch, has resigned from the Comment Awards’ judging panel in protest of writers who have “written pieces positioning trans people as threats or a mob” being shortlisted.

Belcher released a statement on October 13, explaining that she has requested to be removed from the awards’ website particularly over the shortlisting of Janice Turner, a columnist for The Times, in the Commentator of the Year category.

She told PinkNews that the Comment Awards has refused to remove her name from its website.

Turner has written a number of articles that are critical of transgender issues for The Times.

Belcher said that Turner had been praised by the Comment Awards’ judging panel for “changing the debate” on trans issues in her articles.

“By this they meant her articles raising fears over government’s review of the Gender Recognition Act, continually positioning trans people as dangerous sex offenders, and incorrectly alleging that women’s spaces would be at risk when the Act has no bearing on this,” Belcher said in her statement.

Belcher was on the judging panel for the Comment Awards’ Society and Diversity Commentator of the Year prize.

Two of the nominees for the Society and Diversity accolade, Gary Younge and Nesrine Malik, have released a statement explaining that they have withdrawn from the Comment Awards after they were shortlisted alongside Phillips, who has described Islamophobia as a “fiction to shut down debate,” in the same category.

Turner regularly writes articles criticising the trans rights movement. (VictoriaPeckham/Twitter)

Phillips also penned an inflammatory article about trans issues for The Spectator. 

Belcher continued: “As soon as the shortlists were published, I asked for my name to be removed as a judge. The Comment Awards have refused to do this. The values I thought underpinned the Society and Diversity award were inclusion and diversity. Instead the only values that seem to have mattered are controversy and ‘changing the debate.’

“I refuse to be associated with either awards or organisations that values ‘changing the debate’ over the lives of vulnerable people, be they trans, Muslim or anyone else.”

Responding to Belcher’s statement, the Comment Awards posted on Twitter on Sunday (October 14): “The Comment Awards abhors the statement against shortlisted writer @VictoriaPeckham [Janice Turner] by one of this year’s judges, @HelenCBelcher. We are crystal clear on our commitment to celebrate a true diversity of opinion, writers, and to freedom of the press.”

Belcher was previously a judge for the Comment Awards in 2017.

In a September 8 comment piece for The Times, headlined “trans teenagers have become an experiment,” Turner advocated against the introduction of a self-identification process for trans people in the UK through the government’s proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). The consultation for the review of the GRA closes on Friday (October 19).

The Comment Awards released a statement on Twitter. (CommentAwards/Twitter)

Speaking to PinkNews, Belcher said: “The issue is really not about free speech. It’s about owning the consequences of free speech.”

She added: “The relentlessness of the regularity of which anti-trans pieces are being published in papers like The Times, The Sunday Times, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, is having a detrimental effect on the mental of every trans person I know, including me.”

PinkNews has requested a further statement from the Comment Awards.