Two trans journalists are pulling out of the Guardian’s Pride special coverage due to what they claim is “ingrained prejudice against trans women” by the newspaper, VICE World News has learned.
In a letter to the UK newspaper’s bosses seen by VICE World News, freelance journalists Freddy McConnell and Vic Parsons said they were declining all future work with the Guardian. They were commissioned to write pieces about their experiences of being trans for the paper’s upcoming Pride special in its G2 magazine.
They say they have a “moral duty to stand in absolute solidarity” with trans women and trans feminine people who are receiving the most negativity from the paper, adding they will “no longer write for The Guardian until it changes its trans-hostile and exclusionary stance.”
The letter continues: “For far too long, the UK’s supposedly most progressive mainstream media outlet has routinely monstered trans women, undermined non-binary people and misrepresented our desire to simply live in peace and safety. It has amplified conspiracy theories about trans healthcare and trans and gender non-conforming children and has contributed to attempts to smear those working to support trans people. On social media, it’s even worse, with prominent writers routinely amplifying and generating misinformation about trans women, trans men and nonbinary people.”
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McConnell and Parsons told VICE World News they believed a recent opinion piece was “misleading and discriminatory” about cis lesbians dating trans women and said it was “the final straw” for them. Published on the 29th May in the Guardian’s sister paper the Observer and online on the Guardian’s website, the article has been widely criticised as anti-trans, with the author of the article repeatedly calling trans women “biologically male” and labelling trans campaigners working for trans equality as pushing “gender ideology”.
McConnell told VICE World News he was “disgusted” by the article, “I was like, oh God, here we go again. I’m still shocked that the Guardian is putting out pieces that are so obviously incorrect, inaccurate and offensive. What is going on?”
In their letter to newspaper bosses, the writers claim the article “contravenes The Guardian’s editorial code on fairness, verification, accuracy and discrimination”, as well as going against the paper’s “foundational values”.
“This decision was not reached quickly or easily,” they write, adding, “since 2017, trans writers, staffers and allies have been working politely and tirelessly to help editors understand the harm that misinformed hostility to trans equality is doing, both to trans people and to the paper itself.”
Parsons was most recently published in the Guardian last week, reviewing Flesh – the UK’s first queer camping festival. The piece was published the day after the Observer article on cis lesbians dating trans women. Parsons told VICE World News that they were initially pleasantly surprised by how quickly their article was commissioned, and noted that all of the people they had spoken to in the organisation were either queer themselves or they appeared to be trans allies, with many having their pronouns listed in their email signatures.
“When I saw that opinion piece I was just like – why? Not again. I was sent it by multiple people and it’s exactly why I’ve had to stop reading the news for the past few months,” Parsons told VICE World News. “It was impossible for me to go ahead and write something for the Pride edition, knowing that the organisation had supported that article.”
McConnell used to work for the Guardian in a full-time staff capacity. McConnell documented his journey of becoming a father in a 2018 documentary entitled Seahorse, as well as in a series of columns in VICE.
He told VICE World News his experience of working for the Guardian at the time was of “being ignored”, adding: “It was very disempowering, and really frustrating, but it’s nothing compared to what it must feel like as a trans woman or trans feminine person to read these constant pieces attacking you.” He says he was sent the latest article by ex-colleagues who were “pulling their hair out” over it.
While the two journalists call on other writers – and especially LGBTQ writers – to end their working relationships with the Guardian “until it stops attacking trans women and trans equality,” they say that all of the newspaper’s trans staff have already left.
“The Guardian can no longer point to trans staffers as evidence of not having a transphobia problem because they’ve all left, either wholly or partly due to said transphobia,” the letter claims.
VICE World News is aware of at least three other trans journalists who have also stopped writing for the newspaper because of transphobic experiences, but they do not wish to be named.
McConnell and Parsons list several demands within their letter. They want the Guardian to change its editorial approach to trans people, asking bosses to prioritise the lived experiences of trans people over “paying writers who are not trans to express uninformed opinions”. They also ask for a change in the newspaper’s editorial stance to reflect that trans women having rights does not disadvantage cis women.
VICE World News contacted the Guardian with several questions, including asking for a response to claims made in the letter. No response was received, despite several follow-up attempts, by time of publication. However, after this article was published, a Guardian News & Media spokesperson said in an emailed statement: "We are a news organisation that's always been committed to representing a wide range of views on many topics in our coverage. Our editorial remit is to engage with the important issues of the day, and to never shy away from difficult or divisive subjects – and we understand there will always be debate around the issues we cover.
"The Guardian continues to highlight the rights and lives of LGBTQ people in depth, and with empathy; from news reporting, to features and lifestyle coverage, including through Guardian podcasts, video and documentaries.
"We have worked hard to make the Guardian an inclusive environment for all staff over many years, and to support our LGBTQ employees."
Asked whether they are worried that pulling out of the Guardian’s coverage of trans lives could actually lead to trans people being silenced, or more anti-trans negativity in the newspaper, both McConnell and Parsons said “no”.
“We’re not included in the debate at this point anyway, and certainly not by the Guardian,” Parsons told VICE World News. “This is a statement against the continued exclusion of our voices from the debate – not us removing ourselves from a debate that we were included in.”
They added: “If you call yourself a trans ally, this is the moment for you to do something. Yes, it might come at a financial cost to not have a working relationship with The Guardian, as it does for me and Freddy, but sometimes you have to do what's right.”