BBC defends Question Time after chaotic debate over trans rights compared to a ‘lynch mob’

India Willoughby during a segment on Question Time.

The BBC has defended an episode of Question Time during which audience members voiced hostility towards panellist India Willoughby.

The 2 February programme included a discussion about the rights of trans women to enter single-sex spaces, as well as the recent controversy surrounding the UK government’s decision to block the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform bill.

Rishi Sunak’s governing Tory party announced it would block the reform – which would have made it easier for trans people to change their gender markers on legal documents – voicing vaguely held “concerns” about the bill’s implications on women’s safety.

A week later, trans woman Isla Bryson was found guilty of raping two women, before transitioning, and was temporarily remanded to Cornton Vale women’s prison. She was moved to a male prison after the decision to do so was roundly criticised.

Viewers complained about the Question Time segment following several remarks from audience members that trans women are somehow a danger to cis women – a statement rooted in transphobic misinformation. There is no evidence to suggest that trans people threaten the safety of women while entering single-sex spaces.

One audience member insisted to trans newsreader Willoughby that “you can’t change sex”, and made various anti-trans assertions which linked trans women to men.

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“There are good men and there are predatory men, we should not allow trans into female spaces,” the member of the audience said. “There are good trans and there are predatory trans and that’s a fact. Women and children have to be safe.”

But panelist India Willoughby reiterated that trans women are women, while telling viewers that there are “bad apples in all walks of life” and trans people should not be discriminated as a result.

“If there is a gay sex offender or a gay predator, we don’t suddenly become homophobic, if there’s a Black rapist we are not racists,” she said.

BBC addresses criticism of the Question Time trans segment

Despite the overwhelmingly negative response to the segment, the BBC has stood by its decision to air it as it did, saying in a statement that it aimed to feature people from “across the political spectrum”.

The BBC statement said: “The aim was to have a civilised and polite conversation, while also recognising that this is a highly sensitive issue with concerns being expressed on all sides.

“We heard prominent contributions from the Scottish government representative around support for their legislative proposals on gender reform and from India Willoughby, who, as we indicated in our introduction, is a trans rights campaigner.

“[Host] Fiona Bruce treated all members of the panel fairly and intervened when necessary to keep the discussion on track,” the statement continued. “We also heard a wide range of viewpoints from the audience during this particular debate.”

After the programme aired, Willoughby described the entire segment as a “lynch mob” and wrote in a tweet that it felt like [she] was at a hanging.

“It was disappointing to feel that mood in the air. 1970s audience bar a few exceptions,” she said.

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