The editor of the Kentish Gazette and a reporter have both left the title after being suspended following publication of an article that publisher KM Group said got transgender issues “badly wrong”.
Editor Bob Bounds and reporter Alex Claridge were suspended last month after the Harry Bell column, which uses a pseudonym to cover topics in a more informal way, singled out a “very obvious transperson” in Canterbury in an apparent attempt to tackle trans issues.
The column ran in the 5 October edition of the weekly title, which is owned by the Kent Messenger (KM) Group – itself bought out by Iliffe Media earlier this year.
The piece began by claiming a convicted male rapist who now self-identified as a woman had begun “making sexual advances towards women” after being moved to a woman’s prison.
It went on to say: “One argument advanced by such people is that they have women’s brains, but are in men’s bodies.
“In Canterbury there’s a very obvious transperson. Well, I say transperson, but it’s just a bloke with a feminine haircut who wears women’s clothing.
“With that in mind I conducted a little experiment. I showed a picture of this person – I happen to know his name – to five women aged between 23 and 71 and asked them what they thought.
“Each correctly said they were looking at a man. Four out of five said something even more telling: that he has no idea of how to dress as a woman.
“In other words, to their minds, he does not possess what could be recognisably called a feminine brain.”
The column was shared on the Canterbury Pride group Facebook page. The group, which represents the LGBT+ community, said it was “shocked and saddened” to see it in their local newspaper.
In the following week’s edition the Gazette issued an apology and devoted its letters page to responses to the column. It said: “The Gazette has come in for heavy criticism over the publication of last week’s Harry Bell column, which included an item about transgender issues.
“When you get things wrong, the best course of action is to hold your hands up and say sorry. Last week’s column did get it wrong – badly wrong.
“We feel it is appropriate to dedicate our letters pages to the many messages we have had criticising the comments contained in the article.
“Harry Bell has never purported to be the Voice of the Gazette, nor to represent the views of anyone other than the author. However, we must take responsibility for providing the platform for such opinions to be aired.
“Over the course of its long history, the Gazette has prided itself on fighting for the community it serves. That includes all those who help make the Canterbury area such a diverse and wonderful place to live.
“Over the coming weeks we will be attempting to rebuild links with those upset by last week’s column and will ensure we learn from our mistake.”