Julie Burchill’s attack on transexuals forced me to break my own rule and complain

This post was written by Salman Shaheen on January 14, 2013
Posted Under: Gender Politics,LGBT,Media

This article was originally written for my new website, salmanshaheen.com

There comes a time in every man’s life when two of his most dearly held positions come into conflict with one another and he finds himself questioning what he had hitherto believed sacred.

For as long as I can remember, I have held firm to the simple, but undeniable truth that people who write in to complain about things are tragic individuals who need to go away and rethink their lives so that they can find a way to contribute more meaningfully to society.

I’m thinking here about the 250 little racists who complained to the BBC because for the first time in its history it aired an episode of EastEnders featuring only black actors. I suspect these people have no knowledge of the real east end of London, else they would be writing to the council every day to complain about the number of black people on the streets. Then again, given the presence of ethnic minority people on television is seemingly so offensive to the Racist250, they probably do exactly that.

I’m also thinking of the 160 people who jumped on a Daily Mail bandwagon this month to complain about Jack Whitehall’s sexually-tinged joke about Prince Phillip and the Queen, which could not have been offensive to anyone but the two people in question who are rich enough and powerful enough to look after themselves. So Whitehall is posh, so he’s rude, so what? There are bigger problems in the world which need solving.

Problems like Julie Burchill. Why this vile disgrace to journalism and the human race is allowed to write anything more than her own name in crayon is a wonder to me, let alone churn out her moronic, prejudiced, hate-filled bile in such a bastion of the intelligent liberal British press as the Observer.

Artist's impression of the average Julie Burchill articleArtist’s impression of the average Julie Burchill article

That I dislike Burchill’s writing is no secret. But what really irks me is that she forced me to rethink my attitude towards complaining when, in one of her most outrageous “articles” (by which I mean puddles of vomit) to date, she came out against transsexuals, calling them “screaming mimis”, “bed-wetters in bad wigs” and “dicks in chicks’ clothing”.

What began as a defence of her friend Suzanne Moore who had come under Twitter-fire for saying that women were expected to look “like Brazilian transsexuals”, turned into a personal vendetta against one of the world’s most victimised minorities.

Burchill is no stranger to controversial remarks, she has built an entire career on attempting to offend middle class liberals by writing things that offend them in their favourite papers. But her vitriolic attack on transexuals seems so bafflingly hate-filled and destructively intolerant that I found myself forced to break my own rule by co-signing a letter to the Observer and the Press Complaints Commission.

It’s the 21st Century. Some people are born into a gender they don’t identify with. Get over it.  Julie Burchill is a dinosaur, a fossil, and I hope she crawls back under whatever rock she came from.

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Reader Comments

Britain – Inciting hatred of transgendered people in general terms is acceptable in law… [2013-01-14 sedgemore.com]


Inciting hatred of transgendered people in general terms is acceptable in law…

Francis Sedgemore

Monday 14 January 2013 at 15:01 UTC

Since the publication of Julie Burchill’s hate-filled rant against transsexual and transgendered people in yesterday’s Observer, a number of complaints were made to police forces around the UK. The word coming back from officers handling the complaints, which are been treated as public order matters, is that no prosecutable offence was committed by Burchill.

A CID officer from Lewisham in southeast London with whom I spoke today appears to be arguing that an offence requires there to be a specific individual or identifiable group of individuals targeted. I say appears, as the officer made reference to race hate, which is covered in a different manner, with legislation that predates the law covering hate crime in broader terms and which makes explicit reference to transgendered people.

Note that in 2002 Burchill was investigated for a race-related hate crime after she damned an entire national group – the Irish. Prosecutors decided that there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction, and so dropped the case. But at least it went to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The CID officer with whom I spoke suggested that I take the case to the Press Complaints Commission. That will not work, as the PCC refuses to act on complaints unless they are from individuals directly targeted. There is therefore no possible sanction against the likes of Julie Burchill other than an editorial ticking off, or at the very most a refusal to commission further articles from her. Burchill is a freelance writer rather than a Guardian Media Group employee.

There is precedent for such editorial sanction, and I am thinking in particular of Julie Bindel’s temporary exile from the Guardian following some or other gobby outburst that led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But Bindel was soon rehabilitated, as no doubt will Burchill should she be sanctioned for her latest bigoted outburst.

I suspect that Burchill will get away with it once again. She is not daft, and neither are her editors. Those who recommend that click-bait comment journalists be ignored should be realistic. This is a national newspaper we are talking about. Burchill is a popular writer with a fan base that looks to her as a cultural and political icon. She is an influential commentator.

When Burchill casts transgendered people in a sub-human light, her followers are encouraged in their hatred. Since the publication of Burchill’s latest Observer article there has been a marked increase in online hate comment against transsexual and transgendered people. What is important now is that the individuals making such comments be monitored. If they escalate their hatred via harrassment of individual transgendered people or groups, evidence should be collected and handed to the police.

Incitement is why criminal complaints were made against Burchill, not the offence caused by her writing. Free-speech imperatives dictate that no-one has the right not to be offended, but everyone has a right to be safeguarded against physical and rhetorical attack because of who or what they are. The line in the sand is not always easy to distinguish, but it is definitely there.

© 2006–2013 Francis Sedgemore, except where otherwise noted.

Written By Brenda Lana Smith R. af D. on January 14th, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

Still always wrong to complain, I’m afraid

Written By Chris on November 4th, 2013 @ 3:17 am

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