Gender Wars: Channel 4’s controversial doc ‘adds fuel to anti-trans fire’, contributors say

A composite graphic made of images of anti-trans activist Kathleen Stock and trans activist Dr Stephen Whittle from the Channel 4 documentary Gender Wars

Channel 4’s Gender Wars has already drawn criticism for its heavy focus on Kathleen Stock, and trans contributors to the documentary say it adds ‘fuel to the fire’ of anti-trans narratives that are rife in the British media. 

When details about the show were released in April, the trans community, LGBTQ+ people and allies raised concerns about its attempt to answer the dog-whistle question “what is a woman?” and why Stock, who quit her role at the University of Sussex following protests from students over her anti-trans views, was being included. 

These fears were validated when trans contributors to the documentary revealed they weren’t informed of Stock’s involvement and were “shocked” to find out she was the central figure of the programme.

Dr Stephen Whittle, emeritus professor of equalities law at Manchester Metropolitan University, published an open letter, co-signed by other contributors, accusing Channel 4 of “misleading” them and “unethical behaviours”. 

Whittle tells PinkNews that he asked to see the documentary ahead of its airing tonight (30 May) and watched it alongside his wife as well as the director and producer. 

By the end of the film, his wife declared: “This is the Kathleen Stock rehabilitation film. This is not what Stephen ever thought he was participating in.” 

You may like to watch

He says his wife “never shouts at anybody”, but it was a “vile and horrible little film”, according to her. 

“Absolutely, it is a Kathleen Stock rehab show. This is not about us,” Whittle says. “We are there without any context to anything that we say.”

He continues: “Nothing about the history. Nothing about how the legal changes came about. Nothing about the impact of gender-critical feminism on what our rights are now. None of that is in there. 

“All it is is Kathleen Stock being a victim all the way through.”

Doctor Stephen Whittle wears a plaid shirt as the trans activist is interviewed for Channel 4's documentary Gender Wars
Doctor Stephen Whittle says Channel 4’s Gender Wars is the “Kathleen Stock rehab show” and presents its trans contributors without any context. (Channel 4)

Whittle has been fighting for the trans community for “nearly 50 years”, knows what it’s “like to be beaten up in the streets” and to have people “throwing bottles and bricks” outside his home. 

He says Stock has “promoted a set of ideas that will lead to discrimination and is already doing so”. 

Stock is the darling of the anti-trans movement in the UK and has been granted a largely sympathetic platform in the British media.

Despite a documentary focusing on her and being interviewed by news outlets, Stock argues she’s been “silenced” or “hounded” for her beliefs. 

However, the voices of the trans community en masse are silenced in trans-rights discussions in the media or, even worse, are pitted against antagonistic voices in televised debates, attacking their humanity. 

It’s led to distrust within the trans community as many people avoid contributing to a growing list of outlets – including the BBC, the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and the Irish Independent – that give a platform to anti-trans rhetoric.  

Asked if Gender Wars feeds into the mistrust between the trans community and the media, Charlie – another contributor to the documentary – responded: “100 per cent.”

Charlie and his partner Andrew tell PinkNews they were “specifically told” that they would be allowed to address transphobia in the media and other things, but “none of that” made it into the final cut of the programme. 

“I brought up the way the media treats us. That didn’t come out at all in the documentary,” Charlie says. “We brought up how trans people have severe waiting lists on the NHS, how we’re disproportionately likely to be homeless.

“I talked about how on Trans Day of Remembrance we fed people because trans people are likely to need a free meal. 

“How the far right [and] the Christian far right in the US are involved, about how cis women are unfairly targeted in toilets because of all this moral panic, how the government is trying to take away our rights, none of it made it into the documentary.

“Trans people are terrified. All we want to do is get on with living our lives.”

Charlie believes the documentary adds “fuel to that fire” of anti-trans hate because it’s “more of the same old nonsense”. He feels “incredibly let down” and “disappointed” that they’re “appearing in a piece of anti-trans propaganda”.

Anti-trans activist Kathleen Stock wears a jacket as she appears in Channel 4's documentary Gender Wars
Channel 4’s Gender Wars focuses on Kathleen Stock. (Channel 4)

They’re also incredibly disappointed that the documentary doesn’t cover the death of Brianna Ghey, a 16-year-old trans girl who was fatally stabbed in February. Thousands have mourned her in a country that’s a “dangerous” place to be trans. 

Andrew says the pair of them specifically brought up how Gender Wars was going to cover Ghey’s death only to be told they “can’t do that” because they’d have to “get permission from the family”. 

But, adds Andrew: “They covered Sarah Everard, who was kidnapped and murdered by a police officer. They won’t do it for a trans person.” 

Doctor ​​Gina Gwenffrewi, the co-director of the Scottish Universities’ International Summer School at the University of Edinburgh and who was also part of Gender Wars, says nobody watching the documentary is “going to learn anything that they don’t already know from the media”. Trans people are portrayed as “irrational, crazy and militant”, she claims. 

“It doesn’t talk about the US and all the legislation against trans people,” she says. “It doesn’t talk about the recycling of 1980s contagion narratives, grooming narratives, predator narratives.

“It doesn’t talk about Kathleen Stock’s campaigning, for example, as a trustee of LGB Alliance – which has compared the queer and trans elements of LGBT to bestiality – and the campaigns right now to remove trans people from the Equality Act in relation to same-sex spaces, which would effectively push trans people [out of the public eye]. 

“It doesn’t deal with any of these. It doesn’t deal with Brianna Ghey. It doesn’t talk about the many protests, huge protests, for trans rights. 

“It only talks about the protest in a very problematic way. It just regurgitates the same things that the public are already getting.”

Dr Gwenffrewi adds: “So what’s the point of making this documentary, apart from giving Kathleen Stock a fresh cycle of media attention?”

She went on to claim that the programme also contributes “to this right-wing narrative that freedom of speech is ultimately the most important thing”. This “free speech absolutism” is “very ideological” and “very damaging to minorities,’ she says.

“There is no such thing as free speech absolutism. It’s really just an opportunity to use hate speech and the denigration of minorities.”

Channel 4 told PinkNews that, “as explained to all contributors”, Gender Wars “hears from a range of voices on this issue”.

“It aims to create a respectful and inclusive look at what gender means in 2023, and is an opportunity for all to listen and find common ground,” the broadcaster said. “All of the contributors have been shown the film.”