LGBT+ BBC staff ‘no longer feel safe’ as broadcaster expected to cut ties with Stonewall

BBC defends 'rigorous' standards as lesbians condemn 'transphobic' article

LGBT+ staff at the BBC have said that they “no longer feel safe” at the broadcaster as it reportedly prepares to withdraw from Stonewall’s workplace diversity scheme.

The BBC is just one of around 800 organisations across the UK that are signed up to Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme, which promotes LGBT+ inclusion and equality in the workplace.

Numerous organisations – including Ofcom – have pulled out of the programme in recent months as the charity has faced a barrage of attacks over its trans-inclusive stance.

The BBC is expected to become the next major casualty of the anti-trans discourse surrounding Stonewall, according to Vice.

BBC insiders told Vice that the planned withdrawal from the Diversity Champions scheme could happen as soon as next week. The broadcaster’s membership is due for renewal “in early October”, staff said, and BBC executives have reportedly decided not to continue it.

One anonymous BBC staffer told Vice that top executives at the broadcaster feel they can’t be connected to Stonewall “in any way” because the BBC needs to be “impartial on LGBTQ lives”.

Another employee said the BBC had become a “hostile place” for trans people – and for those who publicly support the trans community.

“I’ve worked for the BBC for over 20 years, and I’ve never known a worse time to be LGBT+ at the BBC,” they told Vice.

“There is deeply engrained institutional transphobia at the heart of the BBC, exacerbated by promotion of anti-LGBT+ views in the name of ‘balance’. I no longer feel safe as an LGBT+ person within the organisation.”

When PinkNews asked the BBC to confirm or deny whether it is cutting ties with Stonewall, a spokesperson issued an identical statement to the one provided to Vice.

“The BBC acts independently in all our aspects of our operations, from HR policy to editorial guidelines and content,” a spokesperson said.

“We aim to be industry leading on workforce inclusion and take advice from a range of external organisations, however we make the final decision on any BBC policies or practices ourselves.

“We do not take legal advice from Stonewall and we do not subscribe to Stonewall’s campaigning. The charity simply provides advice that we are able to consider. As a broadcaster, we have our own values and editorial standards – these are clearly set out and published in our Editorial Guidelines. We are also governed by the Royal Charter and the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.”

Robbie de Santos, director of communications and campaigns at Stonewall, told Vice: “Our work with the BBC focuses on helping to build an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace for its employees, and in no way affects their impartiality. Supporting LGBTQ+ people in the workplace should not be seen as a political or controversial act.”

Activists want ‘an honest debate’ about ‘institutional transphobia’ at the BBC following Stonewall row

The news was widely condemned by media and LGBT+ advocacy groups and activists.

Richard Wilson, director of Stop Funding Hate – an advocacy group that works to eradicate hatred in the UK’s media – told PinkNews: “Amid growing concern about the harms caused by transphobic UK media coverage, it’s shocking to hear of the impact on BBC staff of the corporation’s failure to address this problem within its own ranks.

“It’s time for an honest debate about the scale of institutional transphobia at the BBC and across the UK media industry.”

Prolific LGBT+ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told PinkNews: “The feedback from some BBC staff suggests a hostile atmosphere. In the name of ‘impartiality’ and ‘balance’ the BBC is giving a platform to transphobes. It would never give a platform to racists or antisemites. This smacks of double standards and collusion with anti-trans bigots.

“We seem to be entering a new low in relations between the BBC and the LGBT+ community. What do the letters BBC stand for? Is it British Bigotry Corporation?”

Trans youth charity Mermaids offered its solidarity to LGBT+ staff at the BBC. “We stand with you and with all those who are working tirelessly in hostile, transphobic environments,” the advocacy organisation tweeted.

Arthur Webber, a trans man and LGBT+ activist, tweeted: “The BBC leaving Stonewall’s diversity programme only comes as a surprise to people who have never read an article they’re written about transgender people.”

Feminist sociologist and author Ruth Pearce added: “Stonewall’s diversity scheme is hardly the be-all and end-all of workplace equality, but equally it seems pretty clear that this is the outcome of deeply ingrained homophobia and transphobia at the BBC.”

Liberal Democrats councillor Mathew Hulbert said the alleged decision to cut ties with Stonewall represents “a disgraceful betrayal” to LGBT+ staff.

“This must not happen,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’m a supporter and defender of the BBC, but this would shatter my confidence in the corporation if this takes place.”

This is not the first time the BBC has faced criticism for its handling of LGBT+ issues. In June 2020, senior MPs and LGBT+ activists branded BBC News “institutionally transphobic” in a scathing open letter to its editorial director.

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt and Stewart McDonald MP were among 150 signatories who expressed “serious concerns” about the BBC’s coverage of trans issues at the time.

The BBC has in the past insisted that it approaches stories about the trans community with “rigorous impartiality”.