This week I was moved to complain to the BBC, for the first and only time in my life. The subject of the complaint was BBC News’ atrocious coverage of the case of Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning.
Even in the very article where they reported her decision to come out as a trans woman, BBC journalists continued to refer to her as “Bradley” and with the male pronouns “he/him/his”, against her express wishes. It is hardly difficult for news agencies to refer to trans people by their self-identified name and gender: The Guardian is getting it right, as are many other news sources. There is no excuse for the BBC’s decision to misgender her.
Respecting her gender identity is the very least we can do, for a woman who is now facing the horror of a 35-year sentence in a military prison as retribution for exposing gross human rights abuses by the United States government. Chelsea Manning is one of the greatest heroines of our age, and she is facing unimaginable suffering as a result of her courage. We may not have the power to free her from prison. But we do have the power to express our solidarity with her by respecting her wishes about her own gender identity.
And there is another good reason why we should stand up for Chelsea Manning’s right to have her gender identity respected. In addition to hurting Manning herself, publicly misgendering her also causes harm to other trans people, to whom it sends a toxic and cruel message that society does not respect or acknowledge their identities. No matter what you think of WikiLeaks or whistleblowers, there is no excuse for deliberately and cruelly refusing to respect a trans woman’s choice of name and pronouns – such an act is hurtful not just to Manning but to the entire trans* community, including my own trans friends.
If you agree, please join me in making a complaint to the BBC.