The BBC must temper its language around LGBT+ issues

by Steve Wardlaw | Emerald Life
Thursday, 4 April 2019 13:44 GMT

A BBC sign is displayed outside Broadcasting House in London, Britain July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Asking whether it was "morally right for children to learn about LGBT issues" was a dog-whistle question

Steve Wardlaw is chairman and founder of Emerald Life, an insurance company

In the 1970s, an era not known for its tolerance and inclusivity, Britain’s commercial TV network ITV had a hit show called “Mind Your Language”. In it, a class of adult foreign immigrants were taught English by a patient but exasperated teacher. Every episode was packed with heavily accented faux pas and inadvertent smuttiness from misspoken phrases, while we laughed at their difference and our superiority.

Oh the hilarity.

That programme would be unwatchable today, and rightly so. Mocking the “funny foreigner” is beyond the pale; we know better than to consider people as “other”.

Or do we?

Yet Britain’s publicly funded broadcaster, the BBC, has done this several times recently with the LGBT+ community.

First, there was social media from BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Coming up, said their tweet on March 26 “Do you think LGBT rights should be taught in schools? (Presenter) Jane (Garvey) speaks to a mother and a headteacher.”

This might seem innocuous, but what if the question were: “Do you think racial equality should be taught in schools?” Now it doesn’t sound so innocent.

Equality is equality – if you believe that people should be treated equally because of who they are (their ethnicity) then you must believe that people should be treated equally because of who they are (their sexual orientation).

After complaints, Woman’s Hour tried to explain, referring to the piece as about “the teaching of LGBT sex education”. That was even worse.

The issue of teaching children about issues concerning LGBT+ people is deliberately and exactly NOT sex education. The lessons are designed to show there are many types of people out there who are different, and that they all deserve our respect.

It is a myth pedalled by homophobic people that LGBT+ issues are only around sex.

And then two days later, on the BBC’s flagship political panel show, Question Time, one of the questions posed was in a similar vein:

“Is it morally right for 5 year old children to learn about LGBT issues in school?”

This is a perfect dog whistle question. For those who battle against equality, the question combines morality, very young children and gays in one sentence – and again the inference is clear. This style of question would not be asked about any other minority – nor should it be.

Any class of children will have members who might be gay or transgender. It is not an external subject, and without this education many LGBT+ pupils will struggle with their own health and wellbeing.

In 2017, LGBT+ charity Stonewall reported that 45 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans children faced bullying at school; one in 10 trans pupils were subjected to death threats.

Teaching and supporting difference is a pastoral duty of the school system

Language is a powerful tool to lead and educate. The BBC was established in 1922 to “inform, educate and entertain”. Nowadays, it also operates as a form of soft power promoting British values – and English – around the world.

However, the institution has shown itself to be lazy in its use of language and weak in understanding LGBT+ issues.

Soon, schoolchildren around the country will seemingly have a better understanding of gay and trans issues than our national broadcaster. The BBC needs either to up its game or risk being seen as out-of-touch on today’s issues.

Openly contacted the BBC for a right to reply. The organisation said:

“The BBC has a proud history of supporting the LGBT community through a wide range of content, including EastEnders’ decades of covering LGBT issues, which were recognised by a special Pink Award in 2016, and our Gay Britannia season in 2017. We also have the highest LGBT representation of any UK broadcaster, with 10.8 percent of our workforce and 11.7 percent of our leaders identifying as LGBT. The recent appointment of Ben Hunte as our first ever LGBT correspondent and new content like the NB podcast, Newsbeat’s Battling to be Bi documentary, Pose and the upcoming RuPaul’s Drag Race UK are examples of our continued commitment to representing the LGBT community on air, and last year we announced plans to make the BBC an even more inclusive workplace for LGBT staff.”