Since Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States of America on January 20, he has already signed into law several crucial bills to help and support transgender people.
This has led, unsurprisingly, to large swathes of the British press publishing stories about transgender people that are misguided and misinformed at best, and hurtful, misleading and offensive at worst.
For example, after Joe Biden signed an executive order that would protect transgender athletes from discrimination in high school and college sports – allowing them to compete as their identified gender – the term #bidenerasedwomen started trending in the UK. United, a flurry of toxic anti-trans tweets that regurgitated common myths, such as sharing a photo of wrestler Mack Briggs who they say decided to identify as a woman so he could beat “women organic”.
He’s actually a trans man.
See people posting this photo in #BidenErasedWomen like that’s not literally what they were advocating…he’s a trans guy named Mack Briggs who wanted to wrestle boys but was forced to wrestle girls because of gender specific rules, even on testosterone . pic.twitter.com/V166PWLgQR
— Trans women are women ✌️ (@MxAmericanPi) January 21, 2021
People fought hard against pervasive misinformation, with one trans ally writing: “A reminder that Biden’s executive order on trans rights exists so that trans people cannot be fired or deported for being trans no matter what. where in the United States, when previously there were places it was legal to do so. Let’s focus on that instead of making up nonsense.
Then the British right-wing press decided to weigh in and amplify these trans-exclusive voices. the Daily mail went with, “So much for unity. Biden is sparking outrage after signing an executive order that divides schools to include transgender athletes in women’s sports – leading critics to say the new president is “erasing women”.
The sun splattered: “‘NEW GLASS CEILING’ Biden executive order pushing for transgender inclusion in sport SLAMMED by critics for ‘erasing women’.”
A few people took to Twitter asking how to complain about discriminatory coverage like this, so we thought we’d create a handy guide. Because frankly, let’s be honest, it’s definitely not going to stop anytime soon, as Biden has pushed to enshrine more LGBT+ protections in US law, including the Equality Act.
In 2019, the charity Mermaids commissioned research which revealed that the UK press has increased its coverage of stories about trans people over the past six years, writing around three and a half times as many stories in 2018-19 compared to 2012.
Who can complain about a British newspaper article?
Complaints should be directed to the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), which investigates violations of the Publishers Code of Practice, a set of rules covering a wide range of offenses including accuracy, confidentiality, harassment and discrimination. You can’t just complain because you didn’t like the article, but there are other grounds for complaint.
The accuracy clause is crucial. It reads: “The press should take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by text.”
Anyone can complain if an article is inaccurate, for example if it contains material misinformation about transgender people or their rights. In this case, you will file a complaint under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.
Another option is to lodge a complaint with IPSO as a representative group. To file a complaint as a representative group, you will be asked to explain which group you believe has been affected by the alleged violation of the Publishers Code, how you are representative of that group, how you believe the alleged violation is material and how you believe the public interest would be served by investigating the complaint. Their complaints committee will then decide whether to forward your complaint.
You can also complain to IPSO if you are the direct subject of a story or someone who has been directly affected by a journalist’s behavior.
How do you complain to IPSO?
With your complaint, you must:
- send them a copy or a link to the article you are complaining about (if there is one)
- tell them which clauses of the Publishers Code you think they were broken, and explain why you think they were broken, and
- send them copies of any letters or emails about your complaint that you have sent to the newspaper or magazine, or that they have sent to you.
What will happen if the complaint is upheld?
The consequences of a confirmed IPSO complaint can be significant. IPSO may publish a decision, which may include an obligation to respond to concerns raised, or impose a fine on the member(s) of up to £1 million.
It’s certainly not something a publication takes lightly. You can see past resolution decisions and statements here.
In short, don’t take misleading and discriminatory coverage, there is something that can be done about it.