Lynne Featherstone calls for Julie Burchill to be sacked for post attacking transgender people

As Equalities Minister, Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone put into place the Government’s Transgender Action Plan. She will be acutely aware of the issues facing transgender people, particularly in relation to violence and discrimination. Hate crime towards that community has been rising as the Independent reported.

Yesterday, the Observer published a piece by controversial writer Julie Burchill which was peppered with hate filled language. Had the target of Burchill’s invective been a particular ethnic group, and she had used similar language, then her piece would have found its way onto the editor’s spike and she would most likely have been given her marching orders.

Lynne Featherstone took to Twitter last night to say that Burchill should be sacked for what she described as “a bigoted vomit”.

Lynne Burchill Tweet 1

Lynne Burchill Tweet 2

 

Lynne Burchill tweet 3

 

There’s no doubt that Lynne is going to take some pain for these comments. Already she has been accused of being illiberal and anti free speech. Surely she has the same right as everyone else to express her view on the matter. She is questioning the decision of a national newspaper to drum up some circulation for itself by allowing one of its columnists to pick on a particular group of people. Standing up to bullies is a very liberal thing to do.

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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34 Comments

  • AlanPlatypus 14th Jan '13 - 9:47am

    Standing up to bullies is not illiberal, calling for them to be sacked is. Burchill’s comments show her for what she is; bigoted and small minded. Sadly Featherstone’s comments show her to be a denier of free speech and I find that incredibly disappointing.

  • Alex Macfie 14th Jan '13 - 9:53am

    My question is, should we care at all what Julie Burchill says? She is a controversialist, and her articles normally only provoke interest among trendy media types; the general public have no interest at all in her incoherent, silly verbiage. She is best ignored.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Jan '13 - 10:16am

    So, Alan, do you think it’s acceptable for someone to incite hatred from the pages of a national newspaper and have no consequences? Where do you draw the line?

  • The initial response on Twitter to Suzanne Moore’s article was horrendous. Julie Burchill could have defended Moore in a dignified manner and this storm would not have even happened.

    Problem is that JB has made a career out of being a rambling shock jock who rarely stays on topic. Some of her articles for the Observer towards the end of 2012 look like really bad pieces of satire, more than anything else.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Jan '13 - 10:26am

    Neil, do you have any examples of the reaction on Twitter to Suzanne’s original article. I haven’t seen any and from what I have heard, most of the questioning was quite reasonable. It was only after she quit Twitter and made a grossly offensive comment that people got really angry. Can you tell me otherwise?

  • Just out of curiosity, and setting Julie Burchill’s article aside (and also setting aside Suzanne Moore’s comments on Twitter), please can someone explain to me what was ‘transphobic’ about Moore’s original remark – that [in some women’s eyes, presumably] the ideal body shape was that of a Brazilian transsexual? Having looked at some of the online discussions I know I’m not the only one who is puzzled by this.

  • Alex Macfie 14th Jan '13 - 1:00pm

    While calling for a columnist to be sacked does not deny anyone’s freedom of speech, when a government spokesperson does this, there is a sense of the government pushing its view onto the press. I know that Lynne Featherstone does not have the power to force a newspaper editor to sack a columnist, and it would not be desirable for the government to have that power, but that is how it looks. But perhaps most importantly, Lynne’s comments on Burchill’s article just give this over-rated egotist publicity she does not deserve. I would like to see her sacked from the Guardian and not employed by any reputable publication, not because of what she has said about trans people, but just because I hate the idea of this controversialist getting paid for writing incoherent nonsense purely for the purpose of shocking readers. But I’m quite happy to just ignore her. Ms Burchill does not deserve this much attention; normally no-one outside the media bubble cares what she writes, let’s return to that state of affairs.

  • Richard Dean 14th Jan '13 - 1:09pm

    This isn’t a government pushing inappropriate or party views. Government has a duty to protect its citizens, including from hate and all its consequences. Lynne’s reaction is on the mild side. JB and the newspaper really ought to be prosecuted for this.

  • Of all the parties, I though Liberal Democrats would be the ones never, ever, to defend a Government attacking journalists.

    Ordinary members of the public, MPs even, can call for a the sacking of a journalist, but a government???

    Which other states feature governments that call for journalists to be sacked, and do you want to be in that group?

    Burchill, should, of course, never be commissioned again by any paper that considers itself interested in promoting equality, but that’s not for ministers to say.

  • jenny barnes 14th Jan '13 - 1:42pm

    Unfortunately, the Guardian and Observer have form on this. They have published a raft of transphobic articles, typically by self proclaimed feminists. Julie Bindel, Julie Burchill, Suzanne Moore & Bea Campbell all spring to mind. For some reason abuse that would be obviously beyond the pale if applied to other minorities seems to be cheered on when it’s applied to transsexual women.
    Note that SM talks about Brazilian transexuals, as if they are all trans women, and all with similar shaped bodies. Half of Brazilian trans people are trans men, many don’t have the body shape she was presumably alluding to, and many of them have been transphobically murdered. Brazil has a very high rate of murder for trans women, even compared to the high rates elsewhere.
    I don’t think they can sack her, as such; I think she’s a freelance journalist. Imagine – she got paid for that transphobic rant!

  • @jenny barnes – Agree. The “Horrible Julie B Sisters” have form as long as your arm for writing hateful “shock jock” polemic at the Guardian and Observer – most of it against men in general but also lots of picking on minorities. This is indicative of the bigoted end of radical feminism that is welcome and indeed nurtured among the trendy lefties at The Guardian. They seem to love having their own red versions of Melanie Phillips to turn to when they want to give some group a good kicking.

    But while I have been wanting to see them dropped from writing at serious newspapers for many years, I think it was wrong for Liz to demand this, as it isnt for the Govt to decide who should be journalists. I would prefer that Guardian readers (and maybe the PCC) forced this result.

  • “Half of Brazilian trans people are trans men, many don’t have the body shape she was presumably alluding to, and many of them have been transphobically murdered.”

    What I’m still struggling to understand is how any of that makes her guilty of a “transphobic rant”.

    I mean, if a woman says “Why are all the best men gay?” that doesn’t make her homophobic, does it – despite the fact that not all gay men are physically attractive, and many gay men have been beaten up or murdered because of their sexuality?

    Can someone not explain why this remark is viewed as offensive?

  • @Dave Page – sorry, “Members of the Government” ™ are not at liberty to make political pronouncements in a “personal capacity”, and it’s sill to pretend they are. If David Cameron tweeted that he wanted the UK to leave the EU, would you brush it off as him commenting in “personal capacity” or demand clarification on whether this was now UK govt policy?

    Not only that, but Lynne’s intervention has probably made it harder for the Guardian to sack Burchill. If they sack her now it could look like a Govt pressured move, and any newspaper will want to avoid that for a number of reasons.

  • jenny barnes 14th Jan '13 - 4:50pm

    chris: can someone explain to me what was ‘transphobic’ about Moore’s original remark – that [in some women’s eyes, presumably] the ideal body shape was that of a Brazilian transsexual?

    She was complaining about how,the fashion industry in particular creates body shapes for women to aspire to that no woman could possibly achieve, and uses as her example of a such a body shape that of “brazilian transsexuals” Now, she clearly is not talking about trans men here, she is using transsexual in typical transmysogynistic way to refer to transsexual women. But by saying that no woman could possibly achieve the body shape of a brazilian transsexual woman, she is clearly implying that brazilian transsexual women are NOT women. Because if they are women and already, clearly, have that shape, the idea that no woman can achieve it is ridiculous. And saying that trans women are not women is transphobic. If, by contrast, she had used Andrej Pejic ( see http://tinyurl.com/bx96bpl ) who self identifies as a man, as her example, it might have worked.
    A more thoughtful writer would have described the body shape and made a remark on the lines of “many, if not most, women would find it difficult to look like this”
    It’s deeply ironic when one considers the difficulties many trans women have with their body shape, to be accused of being part of some patriarchal conspiracy to shame cis women’s bodies.

  • jenny

    “… by saying that no woman could possibly achieve the body shape of a brazilian transsexual woman, she is clearly implying that brazilian transsexual women are NOT women.”

    That might be true if she’d said that, but she didn’t. She just gave a list of reasons why women were angry with themselves, including “not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual”. Obviously there’s no implication that any of those things would be intrinsically impossible.
    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/01/seeing-red-power-female-anger

    I have to say I think what you’re condemning her for depends heavily on your own speculation about what she may have been thinking, rather than being based on what she actually wrote.

  • The observer have now removed the original article from Julie Burchill off their web site. I do wonder what discussions took place before that happened. Incidentally I thought a call to ‘sack’ Julie Burchill was a bit odd as I had assumed she is freelance.

    The other point is who thought up the dreadful headline “Transsexuals should cut it out”? Whoever did and okayed that deserves criticism too.

    Guardian headlines used to be known for their wordplay, but now the tendency is to be increasingly sensationalist – down market really.

  • simple answer: boycott the Guardian/Observer. Given they’re so badly written, it’s not exactly a chore to do so. CP Scott is turning in his grave and hopefully the Guardian Group will soon be consigned to its own

  • Yes, they are pretty poor papers and laden with debt. Doesn’t leave much though beyond the Tory press and the Mirror.

  • Andrew Suffield 15th Jan '13 - 7:59am

    Standing up to bullies is not illiberal, calling for them to be sacked is. Burchill’s comments show her for what she is; bigoted and small minded. Sadly Featherstone’s comments show her to be a denier of free speech and I find that incredibly disappointing.

    I take a more precise position here:

    If the government were to prevent the article from being printed, or to enforce a punitive response for printing it, that would be illiberal.

    If the employer decides not to print the article, or to dispose of the people responsible, because they are afraid of the consequences for their reputation, that is not illiberal.

    If somebody expresses their opinion on the subject in an effort to build pressure on the employer, that is free speech which is deserving of the same treatment.

    The Observer is free to decide whether this is a position they want to defend, and if they do then they’re free to weather the storm of public pressure.

    What Lynne is demonstrating here is: “The answer to bad speech is more speech”. This is a fundamental liberal principle: nobody should be banned from saying “bad” things, but we should respond to them with non-enforcing discouragement.

    To be even more clear, here’s my summary of the three political positions on this question:

    Authoritarianism (Labour): The government should prevent bad things from being said

    Libertarianism (some Tories): People should be able to say whatever they want without any consequences

    Liberalism: People should be able to say whatever they want, but bad things are disincentivised via reputation damage and good things are incentivised via government subsidy

  • jenny barnes 15th Jan '13 - 9:00am

    chris – I’ve explained as best I can. I’m sorry you don’t think that’s adequate. She was originally called out on the remark quite gently, and a simple apology for being a bit thoughtless (and a rewrite of that bit of her article ) would have been fine at that stage. Here’s the twitter timeline http://tinyurl.com/ad552oo . As to what she was “really thinking”, who knows? But when she was asked to reconsider, we get this: “I dont prioritise this fucking lopping bits of your body over all else that is happening to women Intersectional enough for you?” and ” People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.” in angry response. I think we can safely say that her base position is that trans women are really men; and the initial remark was an indication of some pretty nasty underlying transphobia. And you’ll see from the twitter feed that I did not react to her original remark in that article. So implying that I’m looking to be offended is – I’m tempted to say offensive (smiles) – but anyway not true.

  • David Wilkinson 15th Jan '13 - 9:11am

    Lynne charges in and the right and the left of the press then use it as an example of what will happen under Levenson to control the press. Lynne does not like something and her response is sack them, well Lynne there is a lot people out there who don’t like the Tory led government and they want to sack you

    It is slightly funny in that a government minister is calling for sackings but it is reported today that the government is to change the 1986 Public Order Act to remove the word ‘insulting ‘ because of stupid prosecutins and the campaign by Rowan Atkinson because it limits the right to free speech.
    One person’s insult is another person’s free speech

    It might be a good idea for some people to count to 10 before pressing the keys and giving an instant view on twiitter.

    PS I do find Julie Birchall comments offensive. but I find her and the Guardian attitude offensive because they left wing wet drips who only can see one point of view, sorry for being insulting.

  • “I’ve explained as best I can. I’m sorry you don’t think that’s adequate.”

    Well, I was specifically asking why people had found the original remark offensive, setting aside the later Twitter exchange. Given that in the original article she didn’t say what you thought she had, you’ll understand why I am still in the dark as to why people found it offensive – except that I’m now guessing that it was based on speculation about what might have been in her mind rather than anything she explicitly wrote. The trouble is that – as far as I can see – she might just as well have been thinking that women shouldn’t be angry because they don’t have a particular body shape, when in fact that body shape is the result of surgical intervention.

    But maybe even that thought would have been in some way ‘transphobic’ and unacceptable?

  • Stuart Mitchell 15th Jan '13 - 7:01pm

    Well done Lynne, Jenny, Caron, Dave and others for showing the trans community the same respect as any other minority.

    There is no question of Lynne’s comments being illiberal. All she did was express an opinion that Burchill’s vile views do not belong in the Observer. That’s not to say that they should not get an airing elsewhere.

  • jenny barnes 16th Jan '13 - 9:40am

    Chris. Actually – here’s the relevant quotes:
    “There is now a third shift – we must keep ourselves sexually attractive forever. This requires more “work” in the form of surgery. ..We are angry with ourselves for … not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.”

    The implications are exactly as I described them,; “We” in this quote quite clearly refers to “women”.
    But if you don’t want to hear the explanation, that’s up to you.

  • Jenny

    I note that the ellipses in your quotation cover whole paragraphs of Moore’s article. But aren’t you really confirming the interpretation I suggested? That she was telling women they shouldn’t be yearning after a body shape which is actually the result of surgical intervention – not making any kind of attack on women who have such surgery, for whatever reason?

    Of course “we” refers to women in the article. But there’s no implication there that transsexuals aren’t women.

    Just think about it. If she’d written “that of a surgically enhanced supermodel”, would there have been any implication that surgically enhanced supermodels weren’t women? Of course not.

    And it really isn’t a question of “not wanting to hear the explanation”. It’s a question of having heard several explanations (one of them based entirely on a misconception about what had actually been written), which make it clear that the objection wasn’t to anything Moore actually wrote, but to other people’s speculations about what she might have been thinking when she wrote it.

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