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Dr Zuckervia Change.org

BBC doc criticised for including contentious gender ‘expert’

‘A four-year-old might say that he’s a dog – do you go out and buy dog food?’

The BBC has come under fire for featuring the viewpoints of a psychologist who previously said that gender dysphoria in children could actually be down to autism. According to transgender activists, portraying Dr. Kenneth Zucker as an “expert” could be extremely damaging to the progress that has been made to improve awareness surrounding gender identity.

A petition which has been signed by over 11,100 supporters initally said that the BBC didn’t understand how much “damage” the programme could do, and called for experts to review the documentary before it was broadcast. It continued: “In recent years we have made massive strides in transgender rights, social acceptance of transgender people in society, and levels of discrimination and prejudice against transgender people are lowering. But this program endangers some of the progress we have made.”

Zucker’s efforts to link gender dysphoria and mental illness led to him being removed from his role as head of CAMH’s Gender Identity Clinic. His methods have at times including controversial reparative techniques that target parents’ influence on trans children – e.g. advising parents to discard of “girlish” toys. The documentary also hears him ask, “a four-year-old might say that he’s a dog – do you go out and buy dog food?”

A BBC spokeswoman told Dazed that the documentary – which aired last night – “sensitively” examined Zucker’s methods. “For more than thirty years Dr Kenneth Zucker ran Canada's biggest child gender clinic and was considered a recognised authority on childhood gender dysphoria until he lost his job,” she explained. “He believes he was fired for challenging the gender affirmative approach.”  

“Having discredited doctors feature as experts when they are in disagreement with the vast majority of the medical profession isn't balance – it's reaching. And it's tacky as hell” – Shon Faye

She added: “This documentary examines Zucker's methods, but it also includes significant contributions from his critics and supporters of gender affirmation, including transgender activists in Canada and leading medical experts as well as parents with differing experiences of gender dysphoria and gender reassignment.”

The petition’s founder, Lucas Johnston, has since backtracked slightly, revealing today that the documentary was “far more impartial” than he was expecting. “I feel like it was slightly favourable to Dr. Zucker's opinion, (but) it did include clips from multiple critics of him and trans activists. For that, I genuinely am thankful to The BBC.”

Others still believe that giving him a platform in the first place was a mistake. Trans activist Shon Faye said the BBC’s decision to broadcast the show was a “danger” given the rise of right-wing populism in the country. 

“This points to a wider problem about balance,” she told Dazed. “‘Balance’ presumes both sides are already equal and so need equal focus. This is not the case with trans people – a tiny voiceless minority – many of whom are living in relative poverty or too busy coping with harassment and discrimination to air their life story for public consumption for people to accept us.”

She continued: “Presenting this as equally common with people who have no regrets about any transition is extremely misleading. Having discredited doctors feature as experts when they are in disagreement with the vast majority of the medical profession isn't balance – it's reaching. And it's tacky as hell.”