Is Nolan's BBC-Stonewall investigation a 'Romans' moment in culture?

By now it is well-known that BBC journalist Stephen Nolan has produced a 10-part podcast series about Stonewall's vast influence on public bodies – including the BBC.

This is clearly a highly significant event, arguably a turning point in the endless debate over sex, gender and sexuality. So-called gender-critical activists and the journalists platforming them have talked for some time about 'institutional capture' by Stonewall. I prefer to talk of organisational takeover, as big business and charitable organisations, as well as institutions, have been influenced.

This series has been widely trumpeted – by other journalists – as a triumph of investigative journalism and as a timely corrective to transgender ideology. The question is to what extent is this true.

A bonfire of vanities

The series is rather eclectic in its presentation of the issues. Short interview clips with well-known LGBT, LGB and gender-critical activists are interspersed with commentary from Stephen Nolan, as well as rather a lot of office banter among the journalists working on the programme. This style is probably the reason why the series is so long. I am far from convinced that it was necessary; audiences actually care deeply about these basic issues, and the attempt to joke around about things was uncalled for.

The simple fact of having the more outlandish stuff in campaigners' own words is priceless. Witness the stream of nonsense in Episode 4 on 'Being non-binary', and the CEO of Pink News admitting he doesn't know what the terms 'two-spirit' or 'genderqueer' actually mean!

More seriously, two out of the ten podcasts are actually devoted to the BBC's own relationship to Stonewall. Is the BBC marking its own homework here? Or is there a more subtle explanation?

BBC Wales finally reports criticism of the Welsh Government

Stephen Nolan is based in BBC Northern Ireland, which is editorially independent of the central BBC in London, and of BBC Scotland and BBC Cymru and BBC Wales (the last two are editorially independent of each other). Stonewall does not have a separate branch in Northern Ireland, and transgender ideology never got pushed in Northern Ireland to nearly the same degree as elsewhere. This helps explain why Nolan was able to make this series.

What is curious though is that an article by his colleague David Thompson was published around a week later on the BBC Wales part of the BBC website (probably the first piece of BBC Wales journalism looking critically at transgender ideology for a long time). This focused on Nolan's discovery (via handy Freedom of Information Requests) that Stonewall had 'dictated' to the Welsh Government that 'gender identity' is protected by the Equality Act 2010, when it isn't actually mentioned in it. This typical Stonewall tactic was rightly criticised by Robin Allen QC, who said that whilst the Welsh Government is permitted to adopt 'a more inclusive definition of characteristics' for policy development, it is not permissible to exclude characteristics. In other words, given that 'gender identity' trumps sex, and that sex is in the Equality Act, it should not have included 'gender identity'. This is very timely given the Welsh Government is now working through responses to its LGBTQ+ Action Plan, which is heavily focused on advancing transgender rights.

 Examining the Tavistock

Episode 5 is an extended interview with former Tavistock clinician Dr David Bell. He dismisses the idea that any child is 'born in the wrong body' and thinks nobody should speak of 'trans children'. He goes as far as saying that we don't need a national gender identity service, that children should be instead helped through local CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services]. He lists those negative physical consequences of gender reassignment, such as infertility, that are known. He said that clinicians were in reality under pressure as to what they could say from transgender lobby groups, of which Stonewall was one. Particularly disturbing are Bell's revelations that he had to get legal help to be able to continue speaking out at the NHS Tavistock Foundation Trust.

However, he also uncritically reproduces the gender-critical claim that teenagers referred to the Tavistock are really just suffering from 'internalised homophobia'. The reality is that there is no published evidence from gender identity clinics or elsewhere proving that most children referred to clinics are really same-sex attracted. Even the findings of the non-random Littman study puncture this generalisation. In addition, the Tavistock itself has been so inadequate in its record-keeping that the High Court judges in the Keira Bell case expressed surprise at it.

Nolan tries to manipulate Rosie Duffield MP

On preserving single-sex spaces, Nolan asks Rosie Duffield MP whether she should be challenged. He says the country doesn't fall over when gay men are in men's changing rooms, implying she assumes all men are attracted to women. She replies that it isn't about attraction, that rape is a crime of power. Nolan does not challenge this one-sided approach.

The true answer as to why society is not fussing about gay men in men's changing rooms is simply that gay men are a small minority of men. Nolan's question is not only disingenuous, it is passive-aggressive and show a nasty disrespect for women's need to be protected from male sexual predators. It is also a way of goading Rosie Duffield into seeming to criticize gay men – something as a politician she could never afford to do, for fear of being hounded out of public life.

Nolan fails to challenge the hypocrisy on the word 'mother'

A major bone of contention in the sex/gender debate is the terminology used for parents. Nolan's Freedom of Information requests found that in 2019 the Scottish Government removed the word 'mother' from its policies at the behest of Stonewall. To be precise, Stonewall wanted the words 'mothers', 'fathers' and 'pregnant women' taken out. Nolan interviews Malcolm Clark, a director of the LGB Alliance, about this problem. Oddly, he did not interview a woman let alone a woman representing mothers.

Clark says he set up the LGB Alliance partly to salvage the reputation of gay people. He emphasised that gay people don't want the word 'mother' removed. Hence the need to leave Stonewall. Clark points out that no 'trans men' have given birth in Scotland, hence there was no practical justification for the policy. However, who was it who campaigned for same-sex parenting but Stonewall – when those now running the LGB Alliance were members? Who was it who campaigned for children to be brought up without a mother, by two fathers? Stonewall!

 Covert anti-Christian bias

In typical gender-critical fashion, Malcolm Clarke goes on to say that elements of Stonewall's belief system are similar to a religion in that there is no scientific evidence for gender identity. Whilst this is true (and I've made the argument previously), the real motivation is hostility to all religious beliefs. Clarke says he is concerned that Stonewall's processes set a precedent for future government takeover by 'a religious cult'. What does all this mean?

The UK government and the Welsh government have both admitted that gender identity is a belief, perhaps not realising that it could land them in legal trouble at some point. Also, there are religious beliefs that are compatible with science. For example, the belief that God created us male and female and that procreation is key to this. For the LGB Alliance, however, this is emphatically not what matters about biological sex. What matters for them and their supporters is the right to same-sex relationships. In reality this is a rejection of the importance of biological sex. It is very easy to see what the subtext here is: the LGB Alliance does not want the government to embrace Christianity once it has ditched Stonewall. This is the same old, same old as what the 'old' Stonewall was like.

Stonewall as a convenient scapegoat

As with most gender-critical comment, the Nolan series tacitly assumes that Stonewall was doing great work until 2015, when it started supporting gender self-identification. This view has increasingly been repeated parrot-fashion by Fleet Street hacks even in the broadsheets. Stonewall is being made a scapegoat for the moral failings of scores of CEOs and senior managers across the UK.

The series could have cut out the banter and included more interviews spanning more organisations. For example, Nolan's discoveries about the Welsh and Scottish governments were due to a string of Freedom of Information requests made across government. No UK government department contacted responded, yet they would be by far the most influential.

For example, scrutiny of the Department of Education's relations to Stonewall is desperately needed. The current case that Nigel and Sally Rowe are bringing against it, over a Church of England primary school's capitulation to transgender ideology, is highly relevant.

Stop whitewashing Stonewall's history

The series perpetuates the current whitewashing of Stonewall's history. The obvious problem is that the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme long pre-existed the turn to gender self-ID. It started in the early 2000s and soon acquired support from major government departments and big business. Stonewall's accounts history makes this crystal clear.

The Diversity Champions Programme had long conquered all major public sector bodies, public services, high street banks, big businesses and major charities by 2015. I really do not remember any of these gender-critical activists complaining about Stonewall taking so much money from us all back then. Now all of a sudden it is being vilified by the very same people who willingly played along and by their own admission supported same-sex 'marriage' and parenting. Back then nobody called the Diversity Champions Programme 'a protection racket', as is often said now on Twitter.

 A 'Romans' moment in culture

From a Christian point of view, the series never really manages to explain the real problem with Stonewall, which is that its entire raison d'être is the normalisation of unnatural behaviour and attitudes. The gender-critical breakaway from Stonewall insists that homosexuality is natural and innate. In reality it is no more natural or innate than transgenderism. Neither homosexual behaviour not attempted reconstructions of the body to imitate the opposite sex are uses of the body that conform to created human nature. Our biology makes this obvious.

The Apostle Paul warned listeners in the church in Rome in the first century about this. Having explained how the entire culture had been given over to the unnatural, due to rejecting God as the Creator (Romans 1), he goes on to warn that nobody can boast in themselves or look down on others' sins (Romans 2). All have sinned and fallen short of God's vision and standards, and God has provided a way out of this predicament by sending Jesus Christ to die in our place (Romans 5).

The lack of Christian interviewees throughout is telling, suggesting yet more challenging days ahead as far as the BBC is concerned. Our hope needs to be in God, and not in the BBC's supposed change of direction.

Dr Carys Moseley is a policy researcher for Christian Concern