UPDATE: On 8th July 2021, following a public outcry regarding the irresponsible and biased reporting, the BBC upheld the complaints regarding Ben Hunte article ‘Puberty blockers: Parents’ warning as ruling appealed‘:
“The guidelines on impartiality say news reports such as this one should give “due weight to events, opinion and the main strands of argument”. It is not always necessary to cover the range of views or opinions in equal proportions but the guidelines recognise the omission of views can jeopardise impartiality. In the case of this article, there was an editorial justification for reporting the reaction of those fearful of the possible impact of the High Court ruling. However, as the ruling represented a critical juncture in a sharply controversial debate, the ECU considered the article should have done more to reflect the arguments of those who have legitimate reservations about the use of puberty blockers and upheld this element of the complaint.
In relation to suicide, the ECU noted that the article included contributions from a 14 year-old trans boy who had attempted suicide and his mother; from the mother of a 12 year-old trans girl who fears her daughter “will not make it” through male puberty; and from an unnamed clinician who said she knew of several young trans people who had “tried to take their lives, some successfully”. While the ECU thought it appropriate to reflect genuine concerns about suicide in an article of this kind, in the light of the guidelines’ warning that factual reporting of suicide has “the potential to make such actions appear feasible and even reasonable to the vulnerable”it concluded on balance that the repeated references to suicide went beyond what was editorially justified in the context. This aspect of the complaint was also upheld.”
This letter, signed by 15 doctors and psychologists, was emailed to the BBC director general Tim Davie on the 23rd December 2020 and made public in this thread on twitter. Since then, many others including scientists, parents and journalists, joined to support it.
If you would like to add your name to this open letter, please contact me either through the contact form or DMs on twitter. Thank you all for your support!
Dear BBC complaints and editorial standards,
We are writing to complain about the article titled “Puberty blockers: Parents’ warning as ruling appealed” by Ben Hunte https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-55369784 that was published on 22nd December 2020.
The article is inflammatory, one-sided, and the conjecture regarding suicide risk could potentially lead to increased suicide risk in the patient population that was described in this article. Therefore, we urge you to consider re-writing it or taking it down as soon as possible.
The experts quoted in this article operate in this field at the fringes of the health system; not only have they sustained many complaints and investigations against them, the GP who set up Gender GP has been suspended by the GMC.
There are a number of factual inaccuracies in the article:
1. “The NHS gender identity service is appealing against a High Court ruling”.
No – the Tavistock have sought permission to appeal, this has not yet been granted.
2. “The NHS service says the move harms young people with gender dysphoria”.
Where did this statement come from? The Tavistock have said it is “likely to cause anxiety”, but anxiety is not the same as harm.
3. “Sex assigned at birth”.
This does not happen; sex is observed at birth. Only in a very small minority of intersex conditions is a person’s sex ambiguous.
4. “Accessing puberty blockers is currently one of the first steps in treatment for young people wishing to transition”
No. Puberty blockers should be one of the last steps. Young people who are questioning their gender are entitled to a full psycho-social assessment before the prescription of puberty blockers is considered. This process, if done properly, could take from 6 months to a year. If co-morbid conditions need assessing and treating, this stage could take considerably longer.
5. “A clinician who currently works within the NHS GIDS, told the BBC her patients are now being left alone to deal with distress”
No – GIDS have provided extra support for their patients, and CAMHS services throughout the UK are also able to offer support for young people who have mental health concerns.
On four occasions in the article it surmises that since the Judicial Review ruling, transgender teens are potentially now at increased risk of suicide. This is not only conjecture, but also could inflate the risk of suicide in a group of very vulnerable young people. The young people who attend GIDS frequently have co-morbid conditions that affect their mood and suicidality. Suicidal ideation is not confined to their gender dysphoria. Complex psycho-social difficulties, including sexual trauma, autism, bullying, homosexual puberty, depression and anxiety are significant factors that could affect their mental health profile and suicide risk.
The Judicial Review has recognised that this is a very complex area, and that there is a serious lack of research and understanding. Most young people who are prescribed puberty blockers go on to take cross-sex hormones which are life-changing and irreversible treatments. Puberty blockers are no longer seen as reversible, and risks to brain and bone development have now been published. These facts have been omitted from the article.
There are many people from all sections of our society, including clinicians, parents of trans-identified adolescents, lesbian and gay organisations and detransitioners, who have welcomed the judgement and the focus it has drawn to the lack of robust research and understanding in this area.
Given the number of areas of contention, as well as the factual inaccuracies and the risks associated with conjecture around suicide risk, we would ask that you give this your urgent attention.
Dr Julie Maxwell
Dr David Pilgrim
Dr Maja Bowen
Dr Annette Neary
Dr Az Hakeem
Dr Tessa Katz
Dr George Halasz
Dr Lucy Griffin
Dr Damian Clifford
Dr Katie Clyde
Dr Angela Dixon
Dr Laetitia Pichevin
Dr Ellen Wright
Prof David Curtis MD PhD FRCPsych
Dr Lesley Semmens
Dr Debbie Hayton, teacher
Dr Tristan W Graham
Ruth Conlock, retired social worker
Margaret Ann Pearson
Professor Emerita Debbie Epstein
Jacky Grainger, psychotherapist
John AP Moir
OBJECT! Feminist Campaign Group
Dr Trevor Stammers, associate professor of medical ethics
Dr Pamela Yerassimou
Dr John Higgon, Cons. Clin. Neuropsychologist
Dr Richard Gascoigne (GP) MBBS MRCGP DRCOG
Dr Angela Thompson
Kathryn Neel, Ph.D (Maryland)
Dr Josie Easton
And others who were unable to make their names public owing to the hostile nature of the debate in this area. You can read some of their testimonies below:
Ms M, Clinical Psychologist and former Primary School TA said:
“I decline to add my whole name, as it is very recognisable and there are issues of my recent experience of resigning from my job in protest at being asked to collude in the social transitioning of a very young child. I am concerned about the ‘affirmation only’ approach adopted by schools, teaching unions, counselling organisations, the Tavistock and the BBC (and reflected in its CBBC and online output, and its teaching materials for schools), at the behest of lobby groups.”