Edinburgh, Scotland, UK – A disgruntled transgender former employee filed a lawsuit against a UK newspaper that, if successful, could have a chilling effect on media coverage of gender identity issues.
Katherine O’Donnell, who began identifying as a woman at some point during the 14 years he worked for the Times, says the workplace environment was hostile and anti-transgender. He is suing the news organization for transgender discrimination.
Demographics With Conflicting Interests Could Be Silenced
According to Mr. O’Donnell’s complaint, he was brought to tears by the nature of the newspaper’s coverage of transgender issues.
The Times article that most triggered Mr. O’Donnell is a 2014 opinion piece in which the author, a freelancer, argued that it is justifiable for a woman who requests a female doctor to refuse medical treatment from a male doctor who identifies as a woman.
“It made me cry … it was such a foul piece, and derogatory,” Mr. O’Donnell lamented. At the time, he wrote a letter to editor John Witherow denouncing the piece as “virulently transphobic.”
Jane Callan, the barrister representing the Times before the Edinburgh Employment Tribunal, countered that the newspaper publishes opinion pieces to “stimulate debate.”
Opinion pieces expose the public to other sides of the transgender controversy that are almost never presented by news outlets.
On another side of the transgender debate are those who argue that the human rights of women to establish boundaries over their own bodies are being trampled by the transgender movement. The transgender movement has effectively overturned the ability of women to have sex-specific public showers, locker rooms, change rooms, restrooms, rape crisis centers, shelters and prisons.
Some lesbian, gay and bisexual advocates say the modern transgender movement clashes with their right to sexual autonomy. Many prominent trans advocates decry it as transphobic that gays and lesbians are not open to opposite sex partners who declare a transgender identity, and many denounce bisexuality as a reinforcement of the classification of two binary sexes.
Triggered By Other Perspectives
Mr. O’Donnell says he “left the room in shock” when a senior member of the newspaper staff referred to being transgender as a “lifestyle.” The remark was “callous and dehumanising,” he testified before the Tribunal. “I didn’t know I was going to vomit until I got to the loo.”
During coverage of scientist Kate Stone, the Times used the adjective “transgender” in the headline to describe Dr. Stone, who is open about his gender identity. Mr. O’Donnell complained to the editor that the scientist’s gender identity was irrelevant to the story, which was about life-threatening injuries Dr. Stone sustained after a deer collided with him in a garden in Lochailort, impaling the scientist on its antlers.
The editor explained to Mr. O’Donnell that the detail was added to the headline just to add color that would generate reader interest. However, Times staff complied with Mr. O’Donnell’s request, and removed from the “transgender” descriptor from the headline.
“My desire to see fair and balanced coverage of trans people and issues in the [Times newspaper] has led to me being viewed as difficult or troublesome,” Mr. O’Donnell’s insisted in his legal complaint.
He was laid off from the Times last year when his position as night editor became redundant, but is convinced his gender identity and constant complaints to editors about the transgender articles were roadblocks to promotions.
Working at the Times “left me feeling as if the floor had opened up beneath me and that I had fallen into a reality in which what these men really thought of me and people like me was revealed.”
The Times denies the claims, and is “rigorously defending” the case, a spokesperson said.
Undermining Free Press
If Mr. O’Donnell’s landmark lawsuit succeeds, it would set a precedent that would compel news organizations to balance the topics they report on and how they report them with employment law, taking into consideration whether staff could find the output offensive to their group’s interest and sue. With the threat of employee discrimination lawsuits always looming over what news outlets publish, the ability of news media to offer thorough, fair and balanced reporting would be severely compromised.
Already, UK journalists risk interrogation by authorities and jail time for “misgendering” trans-identified individuals, as British journalist Caroline Farrow recently found out. (“Misgendering” is a term used by trans activists when those who do not believe in gender identity ideology make reference to a person’s biological sex rather than claimed gender identity.)
The transgender movement could have far-reaching ramifications for the press that extend far beyond gender identity issues. The shutting down of news outlets, establishment of rigid controls over journalists and imprisonment of dissenters is usually seen only under totalitarian regimes.
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A former editor at the Times is suing the newspaper for anti-trans discrimination, harassment, victimisation, and unfair dismissal on the grounds of gender reassignment — in a landmark case that, if she wins, could transform the UK media’s coverage of transgender rights.