LGBTQ employees are quitting the BBC because of how it handles stories related to LGBTQ people, VICE World News has learned.
Five former members of staff spoke of how they felt “hidden” and “ashamed” during their time at the BBC, which eventually led them to quit. The most recent resignation was last week.
In a listening session held over Zoom on Monday the 8th of November exclusively for members of the BBC’s Pride network – a group for LGBTQ staff from across the BBC – current employees also talked about being “disappointed and frustrated” by recent issues which have come about in the corporation.
VICE World News was sent a full recording of the session (Ben Hunte, the reporter on this story, previously worked for the BBC before joining VICE World News). The heated session ran over by half an hour because of the number of issues raised. It was organised following the huge backlash the BBC recently received after publishing an article which claimed some trans women are rapists.
“I know someone that walked out the other day over the article. I know someone else that left a couple of months ago. I know about eight trans people that left the organisation in the past 12 months because they don’t believe that the BBC is impartial anymore,” said one current BBC employee on the call.
“My trans and LGBT friends have lost confidence in the BBC – I’m losing confidence in the BBC – and I’m considering whether my place should be in this organisation,” another person added.
The meeting was attended by Phil Harrold, who runs BBC director-general Tim Davie’s office, and around 100 LGBTQ staff. Staffers openly shared their frustrations with each other on the Zoom call which lasted 90 minutes.
There were no responses or explanations given for their concerns by Harrold, but staff were told that they can expect these in a follow-up session with Davie this coming Friday.
As one employee put it: “It’s been a really disappointing and frustrating few months, which started with the Ben Hunte piece about potentially dropping the Stonewall programme, then the Nolan podcast, and now the article.”
“We really need to start looking internally at ourselves as the BBC, and ask a very simple question - what the fuck are we doing,” said another employee.
This week the BBC confirmed it will not be renewing its membership of a workplace inclusion programme run by the UK LGBTQ charity Stonewall, as first reported by VICE World News last month. Shortly after the VICE World News story ran, the BBC published a multi-part podcast focusing on Stonewall, from the Nolan Investigates programme.
Following Monday’s listening session, VICE World News contacted some of the speakers to ask further questions. These current BBC employees, as well as previous employees, all provided their experiences under condition of anonymity, because they were scared of how speaking out could impact their careers.
“Organisations like the BBC do not change. Right now, if you are trans and working there, you are not safe,” a bisexual woman, who until last week was a senior member of staff working on output for the BBC, told VICE World News.
She continued: “The BBC is a hostile place to be LGBT at the moment. I could not continue working for an organisation that refuses to listen to its staff and continues to behave irresponsibly, touting transphobic nonsense and declaring it impartial. The BBC will be on the wrong side of history and I can’t be here to see it behave so embarrassingly.”
A non-binary employee who recently left the BBC, specifically because of transphobia, said they ended up leaving because they were not able to be their “authentic self inside or outside of the workplace.”
They added: “It is incredibly difficult to challenge BBC editors on transphobic content. Speaking up to senior members of staff, who may or may not one day be the person who decides whether you get a job, can be challenging. It feels like you’re putting your job on the line by even attending some of these conversations.”
A gay man working as a journalist within the BBC, who is in the process of exiting, told VICE World News, “I can’t continue being complicit as the BBC chooses to be an enemy of the LGBT community. There’s part of me that can’t believe what it’s become, but it’s time for me to get out.”
“I worked for the BBC most of my life – I’ve loved this place and stayed because I really believe in its public service mission. But over the past year we've said that trans women are predators, lesbians are transphobic, that Stonewall is bad, and that the rise in homophobic hate crime isn't newsworthy. To appease a certain audience we're trying to split apart the LGBT community, and its trans people who will pay the price on the streets. Not in my name.”
Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images
A trans woman currently working within the BBC, but actively looking for another job, said “people are getting to the point where they’re asking – am I working for the bad guys?”
She continued: “BBC colleagues are losing trust because they’re seeing no action. There are so many staff already considering jumping ship from the BBC.
“I’m looking at jobs externally because there’s a clear lack of action from management, and for mental health reasons. There comes a point where you’re looking at the BBC’s output and you’re thinking, am I an issue? I don’t want to be an issue, I just want to be paid for what I do.”
A trans woman who wants to stay because her team supports her, even though she feels that the wider organisation does not, added: “There’s a huge amount of emotional labour involved in staying right now.
“I’ve had to immerse myself in the hate speech, and read it, analyse it, just so I can rebut it. That’s painful work to do when it’s about your own identity. This isn’t just a trans fight – this is getting the BBC to be trustworthy.
“I’m still here because there’s something to play for. I think that you have to do what works for you personally. I’ve been very close to quitting many times now, and I appreciate that many people have gone past that point. The flip side to that is that, if we all leave, we’ve lost.”
A BBC staffer in radio who recently quit added: “My advice to current LGBTQ BBC employees is that you should go as soon as you can afford to.”
“I always thought that I was doing the right thing by staying, being a representative for my community. That's true to a point, but past that point (where the BBC undoubtedly is now), there's no point grinding yourself into a powder for an organisation which thinks your life is up for debate.”
All LGBTQ staff at the BBC have been invited to the further listening session on Friday, which will involve Davie and Fran Unsworth, the director of BBC News. The BBC Pride network is involved in organising the session, and staff are hoping for answers during it.
“We need to, as a group, come to this meeting with Tim Davie with a clear idea of what we want in mind,” said one employee on the first listening session.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC is fully committed to being an industry-leading employer on LGBTQ+ inclusion. We are proud of our lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans colleagues and we support them to have fulfilling careers at the BBC.
“Although the BBC will not be renewing its participation in the Diversity Champions Programme, in the future we will continue to work with a range of external organisations, including Stonewall, on relevant projects to support our LGBTQ+ staff.”