The media needs to stop demonising trans people – this Bristol Uni case is a prime example

The fear-mongering news coverage of trans identities must come to an end

So a PhD student is suing the University of Bristol, arguing that the institution failed to stop “trans activists” from bullying her. Now, I don’t want to take anything away from the validity of her claims, but her case is a prime example of why we’re having the wrong discussions about trans rights and liberation. Cases like that of Raquel Rosario Sanchez spit out newspaper headlines, actively feeding a narrative that at best marginalises and at worst demonises trans people amid discussions surrounding their own identities.

Raquel Rosario Sanchez, a PhD student at the University of Bristol

According to a report conducted by Stonewall, 41 per cent of trans people have experienced a hate crime related to their gender identity. A quarter of trans people have been made homeless at some point in their life, while more than a quarter of trans people encounter domestic abuse.

And yet in most media coverage, trans people are either side-lined, or used as pawns in toxic debates that do nothing but promote a culture of fear. They are forced to defend themselves over contentious issues surrounding women’s bathrooms or prisons, while their own needs are completely and utterly forgotten.

There’s no better example of this toxic media coverage than that surrounding university campuses like UCL, Sussex and now Bristol. Every major news outlet has covered Rosario Sanchez’s case from The Telegraph to The Guardian. All the articles do nothing but irresponsibly feed the culture war.

The backstory for this case is that PhD student Raquel Rosario Sanchez claims she was bullied by trans students for her involvement in feminist group Woman’s Place UK (WPUK).

WPUK don’t believe trans women are women, focusing much of their arguments on the preservation on women’s only spaces. People like Labour MP Lisa Nandy deem WPUK to be a “trans exclusionist hate group,” something the organisation has vehemently denied.


Now, regardless of whether Rosario Sanchez was bullied or not, and regardless of whether WPUK are transphobic or not, the ongoing case actually has very little to do with trans rights, transphobia and feminism at all.

Speaking during the first day of the case, Judge Alexander Ralton said: “Some might regard proceedings as about trans rights and feminist rights, but the proceedings are not about that. This case is about Bristol University’s handling of conflict. I am sure counsel would say it’s a lot more complicated than that, and indeed it is, but this is the heart of the matter.”

The case is about how Bristol deals with bullying and yet the papers have deemed it an opportunity to raise the “trans debate” and stoke the fires of the culture war to drive revenue.

And in all this media noise, trans people don’t even get a chance to reply. By branding trans activists as bullies and not naming the specific people accused, the media contributes to the idea that all trans people are evil, aggressive and to be feared, when the reality is far from that. Trans people are a marginalised group who often suffer massive discrimination. The demonising, fear-mongering news coverage of trans identities must come to an end.

The Tab is always looking for trans student journalists to help lead our coverage on the issues that matter to them, in LGBTQ+ History Month and beyond. If this is something you are interested in, please email [email protected].

The Tab’s LGBTQ+ history month reporting series is putting a focus on highlighting LGBTQ+ issues and celebrating queer voices across UK campuses.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story you can contact Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ helpline, on 0300 330 0630 or visit their website. You can also find help through young people’s charity The Mix, and Galop, the LGBTQ+ anti-violence charity. 

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