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July 1, 2022updated 07 Nov 2023 7:57am

University removes ‘transphobic’ court reporting guidelines from website

By Bron Maher

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has removed court reporting guidelines described as “transphobic” from its website.

The guidelines, which advised journalists to refer to trans defendants by their birth name and pronouns, were published by the university’s journalism department on Monday.

Although the university is yet to comment publicly on the removal, UCLan’s vice chancellor appears to have indicated to complainants that he ordered the press release and guidance to be taken down.

The guidelines were accompanied by a 15-page report reviewing “138 reports of court cases involving 39 transgender defendants” in the media.

They were authored by UCLan journalism lecturers Dr Amy Binns and Sophie Arnold, and had not yet undergone peer review.

Binns said in the press release: “Journalists get a lot of abuse online when they refer to rapists as she, but they are often put in an almost impossible position by the courts. We wanted to put together some robust guidance to help them make consistent editorial decisions.”

UCLan guidelines accused of being ‘brazenly transphobic’

However, the guidance was described as “brazenly transphobic” by news and opinion site Trans Writes.

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Binns told Press Gazette on Friday she regretted “any offence caused” by a lack of nuance in the press release but she was “confident” the full report and guidance were “in no way transphobic”.

Among the guidelines, the report advised journalists to “Make clear the biological sex of the defendant high up in the story” and “Use both birth and trans names where available, particularly for sex offences”.

Instructing reporters to “avoid using definitive words without caveat”, the authors wrote: “Headlines which use the word ‘woman’ to describe a transwoman implies that the writer, and publication, agrees with the proposition ‘Transwomen are women’. This is an opinion, not a fact…

“Describing a person who has recently changed their name as a ‘transwoman’ implies to the general reader that the person has made a sincere, permanent commitment to a gender change, probably with medical treatment. This may not be the case.”

The accompanying report claimed: “Defendants are incentivised by the justice system to claim to be trans, and may do so without any plans to change gender.”

It said this was in part because of “the possibility of escaping prison altogether”. Press Gazette reviewed the ITV, Metro, Times and Independent news articles cited for this claim but did not find any that reported a defendant had escaped sentencing or prison because they changed their gender identification after committing a crime.

Because of the purported incentivisation, the authors advised journalists that: “To refer to a biological male with female pronouns is to tacitly agree with their claim that they are a woman or transwoman. Owing to the incentives of the justice system, this may not be the case.

“Using their chosen pronouns is to collude in their possible deception.”

The Crown Prosecution Statement instructs that prosecutors “should address trans victims, witnesses and defendants according to their affirmed gender and name, using that gender and related pronouns in all documentation and in the courtroom”.

UCLan report clashes with IPSO on trans coverage

In its guidance on reporting on trans individuals, press regulator IPSO asks editors to consider whether the individual’s gender status is relevant to a story and whether they have made their being trans known.

The regulator also advises that anyone in possession of a Gender Recognition Certificate “will, from the date of issue, be considered in the eyes of the law to be of their acquired gender”. This clashes with the recommendations of the UCLan report, which argued: “The existence of a GRC does not prohibit the publication of a previous name when used to investigate or prevent crime.”

The report was criticised online. One response written on Tuesday, which has received 82 retweets as of writing, critically noted that the UCLan account incorporated a Pride logo with trans flag colours.

Another commentator, responding on Wednesday, indicated they planned to submit a Freedom of Information request to the university to learn more about how the guidance came to be published.

The release publicising the guidance was removed from the UCLan website on Wednesday, and its web address now redirects to the site’s front page. The link to the PDF of the full report now appears to be locked to anyone who does not have a UCLan log-in.

The university had not put out a statement on the removal at time of writing, but UCLan vice chancellor Graham Baldwin appears to have responded to complainants indicating he asked for the report to be taken off the website.

“Thank you for bringing your valid concerns to my attention”, reads a Twitter screenshot of an email that appears to have been sent from Baldwin.

“As you indicate in your email, I have already instructed for this article to be removed from the University’s website with immediate effect and I apologise for any distress or offence this has caused. We are looking into the editorial process surrounding the approval and publication of research findings within our organisation.

“As a university, we are committed to supporting, empowering and creating an inclusive community for LGBT+ and we fully recognise the legal standing of a Gender Recognition Certificate under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.”

Press Gazette has approached UCLan for comment.

Binns confirmed to Press Gazette that she had been in contact with the university about the backlash.

Asked about the allegation the guidelines are transphobic, she said: “The full paper was researched and written over several months, and considered the various understandings of the term ‘trans’ and the legal, ethical and regulatory issues around court reporting in particular.

“On reflection, the accompanying press release published on the UCLan website could not do justice to the complexities and nuances of these various issues, nor did it reflect the work as a whole, and I regret any offence caused by that.

“I am confident that the full research paper, and the guidelines it suggests, is in no way transphobic. In fact, I am motivated partly by concerns about the demonisation of the trans community. These suggested guidelines are intended to protect the trans community from being wrongly associated with crime, particularly with sex offenders, who may claim to be trans after arrest.

“Many journalists have described these guidelines as badly needed, sensible and sane. As we make clear in the report, our guidance is of specific relevance to court reports involving defendants who claim to be trans-identified. It is not intended to apply to most general news stories involving trans people.”

Reporting on transgender individuals has become a focus of increased scrutiny in recent years. IPSO-commissioned research published in December 2020 indicated there had been a 400% increase in coverage of trans issues in the press in the prior decade, with language used becoming less openly discriminatory but debate more “heated”.

In October, more than 800 people signed an open letter accusing the BBC of failures in how it reports LGBT matters, in particular those affecting trans people.

And former Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore left the paper in 2020 after 338 of her colleagues signed a letter that described one of her articles as part of a “pattern of publishing transphobic content”.

Picture: Steven Allen/Construction Photography/Avalon via Getty Images

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