It caused a great fuss when it was released, but has been largely shut down by the LGBTQIA+ community - so what is the deal with Nolan Investigates: Stonewall?
What is 'Nolan Investigates: Stonewall' show about?
Stephen Nolan heads up the show. He is a mammoth name in the broadcasting world who captures most of Northern Ireland's ears every day on BBC Radio Ulster. His new podcast, Nolan Investigates aims to examine and 'expose' the 'extent' of Stonewall's influence on the BBC and public bodies.
However, the series quickly turns to questioning self ID, mocking Two-Spirit, non-binary and genderqueer people and largely uncritically platforms and echos the calls of a small, but loud minority, by interviewing primarily the most infamous anti LGBTQIA+ voices.
Why this podcast could be a pivotal moment
When I read the article summarising the 10-hour series, I read it with little concern. It's not news, that Stonewall supports organisations all over the UK to help their LGBTQIA+ staff.
But the article and podcast are scary for a different reason.
Namely, I entirely understand how, within BBC editorial guidelines it, just about, was able to get through the rules. It toes the line, just enough, not to break them. So the reason it's worrying? Is does this whilst being deeply divisive and offensive.
Firstly, the show is a massive advert for The Nolan Show. And it uses transgender people as a wedge issue, worth 'investigating', in what feels like an attempt to attract new listeners.
It spends a great deal of time cleverly positioning itself as the 'only' voice within the BBC that asks difficult questions. An action designed to legitimise to the audience why they are asking questions about LGBTQIA+ peoples rights and identities.
Then, the show successfully, but falsely frames our community as "invading", "infiltrating," "militants," who are "dictating" to the BBC how to "teach kids". - cue the Helen Lovejoy 'won't somebody please think about the children' memes.
The show covers all the usual scaremongering tropes too - hospital bays, prisons, bathrooms, puberty blockers.
Indeed, the "large number of people detransititioning" which is actually, after a quick journalism fact check, less than 1% of trans people.
Side note: For those who I know who've fleetingly considered slowing down or reversing their transition, it's because they are so scared of the hate out of there that the idea of being trans - or being a woman - is so damn scary.
The show amplifies this divisive nature of broadcasting with dramatic music and extreme, but characteristically Nolan, reactions throughout.
The podcast then interviews the cohort of the most notorious anti-trans voices who regularly do the rounds. That's the usual suspects like Darren Grimes Brexiteer personality, Rosie Duffield Labour MP, Kathleen Stock LGB Alliance, Dr David Bell Former Tavistock employee, Malcolm Stock LGB Alliance.
All of this together will lead audiences at home, who trust and enjoy Nolan but don't understand the beautiful nuances of our community - to take on board Nolan's questions, and his guests' answers verbatim.
The danger is, they'll start asking these questions themselves, without the broad understanding they require.
We've seen this in action already. Since its release journalists and TV personalities who set national media agendas like R4 Today's Mishal Husain and Location, Location, Location presenter Kirsty Allsop have listened and amplified the stances in the show.
How does it successfully pivot the debate from Stonewall to questioning all of us?
If you repeat something enough times, our brains are hard-wired to take the information on board.
We can look at the science of communication behind why myth-busting doesn't work to understand this. Many studies have shown that by repeating the myths alongside the truths about vaccines, people are more likely to remember the myth and not the truth.
The show does provide, just enough, balance to cover BBC bias rules. But it also leans on framing transgender lives as a controversy, while presenting anti-trans views as sensible.
This alongside repeating, over and again, the question: Should Stonewall be allowed to advocate for trans people?
By repeating that question, under the guise of journalism, whether it's their intention or not, the impact is stark:
People at home will start to ask not only whether Stonewall should advocate for transgender people. They'll ask, are transgender people something to fear too?
250 minutes in
The closest 'gotcha moment' we get takes around 4 hours to get to. In Episode 7, at 28" minutes they cover an important legal case.
For the first time, last year a U.K. employment tribunal against Jaguar Land Rover ruled that a non-binary person was protected by the gender reassignment category of the Equality Act. They did this because the gender reassignment characteristic in law reflects anyone on a journey from their sex assigned at birth.
It gave a signal to employers everywhere that non-binary people are protected by the Equality Act. I broke this story for Forbes last year, so I know it well. It's a landmark case, that at first instance, can now be cited again.
Nolan Investigates spoke to the Equality and Human Rights Commission who said, in a new statement, this case doesn't - in their view - set a legal precedent because it's a first-tier court. I called the EHRC to confirm this, and they did say their lawyer believes this to be the case.
But that's not what the reports around this case claim. Indeed - what PinkNews editor (and employer) Benjamin Cohen clearly points out in the show. Everyone who reported this case knew, and explained it was a 'landmark ruling that can be cited again'.
Employers who don't want to get sued, look to case law. In the UK, these kinds of employment tribunal rulings matter.
It may not have set a legal precedent but it's wrong for the podcast to frame this ruling as insignificant: It sent a signal with case law that acts as a precedent, nonetheless, for employment tribunals.
Indeed, the ruling has led Jaguar to enter into a formal agreement with the EHRC off the back of this ruling, further backing it up.
Most importantly, as so much of the show's criticism is around language: It was wrong for them to use language to say this was a Stonewall interpretation of the law in the podcast and article.
The simple fact is, it was an Employment Tribunal's judgement.
The real 🚩's
Since I tweeted about the misrepresentation of this ruling, I've been inundated with replies about why this is the red flag moment of the show. But now we've settled where the significance of this really sits. Here are some of my own 🚩
- "Some of the stuff Stephen wants to do, wouldn't normally get pitched at the BBC, let alone make it on air - this is a perfect example" - Episode 2, 3"
- "Stephen is loud, aggressive, talented" - Episode 2, 1"
- "We've no evidence, but it's the perception of this" - Episode 2, 27"
- "The existence of multiple genders is disputed, and is a matter of opinion. And yet some people would argue the BBC has seemingly thrown it's impartiality out of the window. Is it pushing Stonewall's political agenda onto children?" - Episode 7, 1"
- Uncritical interviews with Rosie Duffield - Episode 2, 3 & 7
- Failing to Google and read out the definition of Two-Spirit and Genderqueer - Episode 3
- Speaking to the so-called LGB Alliance, who are known for their broad anti-LGBTQIA+ views - Episode 3
- Echoing the views of the alliance, without the context they are opposed by the majority of the community and over 50 LGBTQ groups. - Every episode
- Their 56-minute largely unchallenged interview with Dr David Bell who faced disciplinary action while working at the gender identity clinic Tavistock. In the interview, he repeats baseless claims about gender identity clinics being a form of conversion therapy. - Episode 5
- In contrast, when they speak to a non-binary person (for 20 minutes) they are greatly challenged on their identity and genitalia. - Episode 4
- It takes eight episodes - over 5 hours of broadcasting - to finally interview a transgender person. Who is once again, asked about their genitalia, and is remarkably critical about a lot of trans issues. They are unrepresentative of the broader community's views. - Episode 8
If this show really was about how the BBC was influenced by lobby groups, as it positions itself, we could all agree why that's a fair, and valid journalistic question.
But it doesn't look at the broader picture or any other lobbying groups.
Instead, the podcast obsesses over genitalia 🚩, mocks LGBTQIA+ identities 🚩, and frames gender identity as an "ideology" 🚩.
It uses criticism (under what would be judged as fair opinion in media law) of Stonewall to justify all of this.
What's scary to our community, is how the show poses us as a question.
Over 20,000 of us were attacked last year in hate crimes. The fragility of trans lives in particular, but all of our lives, are hit so hard by media like this.
Imagine someone questioning your life in 10 hours of highly amplified broadcasts? It's been a terrifying week.
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