On September 7th The UK Guardian newspaper extensively censored part of an interview Jules Gleeson conducted with eminent American gender theorist Professor Judith Butler.
The reason given for this censorship was that the question, to which Butler’s remarks were appended, was the subject of live court proceedings. However, the question and the remarks were two distinct parts of this piece. Moreover, the author of the article had already offered the Guardian an alternative wording that preserved Butler’s remarks, while avoiding any potential legal difficulties.
This is not the first time the Guardian and its sister paper, the Observer, has been criticised for its editorial approach to transgender issues. It continues a pattern that has been challenged previously by Guardian staff themselves. In their letter published in March 2020, UK Guardian journalists claimed that “… the pattern of publishing transphobic content has interfered with our work and cemented our reputation as a publication hostile to trans rights and trans employees.”
The UK Guardian and Observer have previously published unsubstantiated claims that anti-trans academics in the UK are being “silenced”. Ironically, its censoring of Professor Butler’s interview provides evidence to the contrary. It shows that it is trans people and their allies who are being silenced, especially by mainstream media.
The UK Guardian markets itself as producing “trustworthy journalism” and offering a “counterweight to the spread of misinformation”. But, it has shown that its journalism in relation to transgender people is not trustworthy. It has not just failed to provide a significant counterweight to the widespread misinformation about trans people in the rest of the media. It has actively contributed to its spread by censoring legitimate criticism.
In the interview, Butler argued that “gender-critical” groups were not “useful” in the fight against fascism because of their collaboration, both active and passive, with the far right. The latter includes organisations that are religious fundamentalist, misogynistic, anti-abortion, white-supremacist, anti-semitic and homophobic. There is evidence from the Southern Poverty Law Centre and the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights that these groups are funding anti-trans campaigning in the UK and Europe to the tune of millions of dollars.
Professor Butler’s concerns about the links between these groups and organised transphobia in the UK and elsewhere are particularly relevant when considering what has happened in places such as Texas, Poland and Hungary. There, anti-trans measures have been implemented alongside abortion bans, the roll back of rights for LGBTQ+ people and politically motivated bans on gender studies programmes in Higher Education.
We, the undersigned, regard the Guardian’s censorship of Professor Butler’s interview as an attempt to silence debate about the links between organised transphobia in the UK and groups on the extreme right. We thus consider this to constitute an abuse of power by the senior management of the UK Guardian.
We believe that if the UK Guardian and the Observer are not able to provide credible, accurate and trustworthy journalism about trans people, the credibility and trust in all their reporting is under question. We call on the trustees to act to restore the integrity, credibility and trustworthiness of this paper by issuing an apology and publishing the censored section of Professor Butler’s interview. We also ask that the UK Guardian act to uphold its code of conduct and publish accurate, trustworthy and inclusive coverage of issues affecting trans and gender diverse people.
The letter has been translated into various languages by volunteers.