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Germany's giant broadcasters stand accused of gender misinformation
Germany’s public broadcasters are pumping out unscientific messages about biological sex likely to confuse children and promote transgender medicalisation, according to an open letter campaign launched by 120 scientists, psychologists and educators.
“In TV programs, radio reports and on the social media channels of the public broadcaster, this [trans] hype is stoked, and the ‘way into the right body’ [medical transition] is portrayed as a child's easy step,” the June 1 letter says.
Noting a 25-fold increase in youth gender dysphoria cases in Germany in less than a decade, the letter says “the possible, sometimes irreversible physical and psychological consequences of [medicalised gender change] are not described” in this media coverage.
“The reporting seeks to make the claims of queer/trans lobby groups heard, according to which one can change one's biological sex by socially identifying as that sex,” the letter says.
It says confusion and ambiguity about sex and gender — the German word Geschlecht is normally understood to mean biological sex — serves a political agenda to enable passage of a new law for self-identified sex in offical records.
Germany’s government — known as the Traffic Light coalition after the colours of the Greens Party, the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party — is expected to release “key points” for the self-ID law on June 30, with the text itself expected after the northern summer break.
In May last year, three months before the federal elections which brought the Traffic Light coalition to power, draft laws for self-declared gender change were voted down, with one opponent citing the case of U.K. detransitioner Keira Bell.
“Even during the debate, proponents of [self-ID] pretended that the law does not affect the bodies of children,” a spokeswoman for the women’s group WDI Germany told GCN.
She said the draft laws from the Greens and the FDP, both then in opposition, would have allowed children from age 14 to change sex in official records.
“And in both drafts, children can decide to undergo treatment, even surgeries, starting from age 14,” she said. “They need parental approval but if they do not get it, a family court can give the approval.”
These two draft laws included a fine of up to €2,500 for referring to a person by biological sex — so-called “misgendering” — after a new gender identity had been officially recorded.
On the eve of the May 2021 vote, the journalist Thomas Thiel warned in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper that these laws, particularly the Greens draft, would “make children the experimental field of the pharmaceutical industry and ideological interests, the consequences of which they will sometimes suffer for the rest of their lives”.
It was, Thiel said, “a coordinated attack on medical ethics”.
The policy agreement for the Traffic Light coalition commits Germany’s government to enact gender self-ID (Selbstbestimmungsgesetz).
The 1981 Transsexual Law (Transsexuellengesetz) would be repealed. This law requires independent assessment by two court-appointed psychotherapists before a person can register a new opposite-sex identity. Trans activists say this is unnecessary, and involves costly delay and humiliating personal inquiries.
The Greens draft law spoke of a “right to self-determination in health services”, such as hormonal treatment and sex reassignment, and bracketed together the two distinct categories of trans people and those with “intersex” medical conditions involving disorders of sex development (DSDs).
There is disagreement and speculation about these rejected draft laws, and their likely influence on the coalition government’s approach to self-ID, which is presented as an enlightened reform long overdue.
Critics of the self-ID campaign say it exploits DSDs to strengthen trans rights claims; ignores obvious risks to the interests of women and children; attributes adult-like autonomy and self-determination to children with limited capacity to consent; and promotes the idea of a right to medical intervention at the expense of the need for psychological self-reflection.
The WDI spokeswoman said the strongest opposition to self-ID came from the populist right-wing party Alternative for Germany, which did not have much power, while the centre-right Christian Democratic Union could be unreliable or uninformed on this issue.
Dr Alexander Korte, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who has treated youth gender dysphoria since 2004, has warned that the shift to self-ID will bring “problematic effects”, especially for young people.
“Society can no longer tiptoe around the fact that the number of opposite sex-identifying minors has increased dramatically in recent years and that the vast majority (more than 80 percent) are biological girls, mostly in the context of a pubertal crisis [with] the often erroneous assumption that they are ‘of the wrong sex’,” Dr Korte wrote this month in the national newspaper Di Welt.
He attributed this crisis to “the pressure of expectation of a rigid gender role model”, and added that, given “prevailing ideals of beauty and slimness, [these girls] have greater difficulties in accepting their body, which changes as a result of puberty”.
Dr Korte, a senior physician at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, said trans ideology appeared to be “hostile to homosexuality” and its focus on gender stereotypes was promoting “a retraditionalising of gender roles”.
“In the case of many underage patients who attribute their major psychological problems to ‘living in the wrong body’, the analysis shows completely different reasons, often suppressed homosexuality, for example. We can help those affected to recognise and admit their homosexuality and to lead a self-determined, sexually fulfilling life.”
Update: On June 30, Germany’s Family Minister, Lisa Paus, announced key elements of the proposed law to allow a person’s official record of first name and birth sex to be changed by simple declaration at a local registry office.
Children from the age of 14 would also be allowed to change identity in this way and the opposition of their parents or guardians could be set aside by a family court judge, according to the child’s best interests.
"The right to live a self-determined life is fundamental to all people," Paus said at a media conference in Berlin.
She said changes of name and sex would be allowed no more than once a year, in order to “ensure the seriousness of the desire to change”.
The planned law would include fines for anyone revealing, without permission, the previous identity of a person who has used the self-ID procedure.
Commentary from WDI Germany here.
Video: Scientist Ilse Jacobsen on gender ideology and public media in Germany, courtesy of WDI
Germany’s public networks ARD and ZDF have great reach and influence through national and provincial TV and radio, children’s and science shows, and social media, according to philosopher Professor Uwe Steinhoff, one of the co-authors of the June 1 open letter.
“You constantly get this talk about ‘gender diversity’ [Geschlechtviefalt] and always with this preaching, sermon-like tone, as if it leads to more tolerance,” Professor Steinhoff told GCN.
“To think that in order to get tolerance you need to invent additional sexes is silly, it’s like saying you need to invent additional species of human beings.”
Professor Steinhoff, who heads the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong, said Germany’s public broadcasters were funded by a compulsory levy on citizens, had a duty to educate, and until recently boasted programming seen to be superior to private networks.
“Over the last couple of years, especially with the topic of biology, this has changed, and you have an enormous amount of completely unscientific propaganda,” he said.
“Truth matters, right? Public TV should not indoctrinate with falsehoods.
“In English, you have sex and gender. In German, Geschlecht actually means biological sex.
“To distinguish the meaning, some people use the [English] term ‘gender’, but very often people confuse what they mean when they use the term Geschlecht.
“It's circular, or even incoherent, right? People are talking sometimes about ‘social sex’, but if you ask them what's that supposed to mean, you get the typical lame excuse — it’s complicated.
“But a lot of stuff is complicated — telling me it's complicated is not the same as giving a definition.
“So, there's an absolutely nefarious influence of German public TV — it makes people, including politicians, into biological illiterates.
“And [public broadcasting] has a huge number of social media accounts, where they directly influence children and youth, often under the radar — parents don't watch this stuff.
“It becomes really dangerous if this whole topic is connected with transgender ideology — the idea that there are gender souls floating in this ethereal realm, and sometimes they go into the wrong body. It sounds like the Middle Ages.
“And there are absolutely horrendous consequences if you tell children, as these [media] shows do, that transition is the easy way out, and you never talk about the side-effects and the irreversible damage, and never say that if you leave children alone, they will actually grow out of it.”
On June 1, Professor Steinhoff and a group of colleagues including three biologists and psychiatrist Dr Korte, released a 49-page dossier of public broadcasting content, forming the basis for the open letter.
They also co-wrote a comment piece in the traditionally conservative newspaper Die Welt. (In politics, the five authors ranged from far left to left and liberal, according to Professor Steinhoff).
The group LGB Alliance Germany, which defends same-sex rights against gender ideology, has reportedly lent its support to the campaign. Within a month, more than 1,400 people from all walks of life had added their signatures to the open letter.
In Die Welt, a broadsheet from the publishing giant, Axel Springer, Professor Steinhoff and colleagues denounced what they saw as a corruption of journalistic standards in public broadcasting, an ideological campaign to undermine the scientific truth that humans are divided into male and female sex, and a Queer Theory-style project to expose children to adult sexual material.
“[There are] topics such as ‘pronouns’, ‘what is it like to do porn?’, ‘anal sex’ or reality-distorting opinion pieces with dubious statistics about a supposedly hateful, anti-LGBTQ society,” they wrote in a “guest column”.
“Our [dossier] documents misrepresentations and tendentious reporting, confusion of terms and shifting of meaning.
“Scientists and critics are not heard in many programs; questionable ‘experts’, on the other hand, are given a lot of space under the flimsy pretext of ‘tolerance’, while critical enquiries are completely dispensed with.
“On TV programs, radio features and social media channels, trans is a constant topic.”
The co-authors argued that public broadcasting gave a misleading impression of widespread support for the self-ID agenda of the Greens and the FDP.
“According to [self-ID laws], in future one can change one's sex by an act of speech, and at the age of 14, children would be allowed to undergo hormonal and surgical ‘adaptation’.
“Children would thus be allowed to make a decision — the consequences of which cannot be foreseen — before they reach sexual maturity during puberty.”
Asked about criticism of public broadcasting, an ARD spokeswoman said: “We see it as our task to depict society in its diversity and people in their differences. This has nothing to do with ideology or indoctrination”.
She said all program formats “serve to inform and educate and have, of course, been checked for compliance with youth protection laws”.
GCN also sought comment from Germany’s other major public network, ZDF.
Video: In a 2019 interview, Dr Korte explains his apprehensions about puberty blocker drugs, and stresses the role of puberty as a crucial stage in identity development
The guest column by Professor Steinhoff and colleagues drew an angry response from the German government’s Queer Commissioner, Sven Lehmann, a member of the Greens. He condemned the column as “a frontal attack against LGBTIQ+ [people]”, during Pride Month, and said it deservedly encountered “a hail of criticism”.
“This outrage is not only justified, it is necessary, because [the article] is dripping with homophobia and transphobia, is not scientifically sound and deals in fake news,” Lehmann wrote in Die Welt.
He rejected complaints about a high-profile science program, Quarks, which Professor Steinhoff and his co-authors said had denied humans were divided into two sexes and had conflated trans with “intersex” (a dated misnomer for disorders of sexual development, which are medical conditions that do not contradict the binary nature of reproductive sex).
Lehmann also dismissed concerns about a much-loved children’s program, The Show with the Mouse (Die Sendung mit der Maus), deciding to feature a trans adult, Katja, who explained that one could be born with a penis and yet know that one was in truth a woman.
“Renowned formats such as The Show with the Mouse or Quarks report on social diversity and thus also the existence of homosexuality or transsexuality — this is good news for every young person,” Lehmann wrote.
He said it was not true that the government had ever planned to allow children from the age of 14 to decide on trans hormonal and surgical interventions against the wishes of their parents.
“[These interventions] are not regulated by law, they are decided by those affected together with doctors according to specialist medical guidelines,” Lehmann wrote.
The WDI spokeswoman said there were medical guidelines suggesting no surgery until age 18, but no law enforced this.
“Germany is in the Wild West, ‘anything goes’ state now,” she said.
Meanwhile, multiple activist groups have launched a petition against “trans-hostile media coverage” following the guest column in Die Welt.
In a June 15 response to the Lehmann article Professor Steinhoff issued a warning: “The planned ‘self-determination law’ will have disastrous consequences not only for the welfare of children and parental rights, but also for women. The proposed law would allow one to change one's official gender entry without further ado.
“Other countries already have experience with the consequences of this. In supposed women's prisons, women have been raped by trans-identifying men imprisoned with them,” he wrote in Die Welt.
“Rapes committed by men can be criminally attributed to women — who, contrary to the facts, must refer to their tormentors in court by female pronouns, which in turn violates freedom of speech and conscience.
“[Self-ID] gives men, whether trans-identifying or not, easy access to women's toilets [at odds with female privacy and safety].
“Finally, in these countries [with self-ID], women are effortlessly overcome in martial arts, outclassed in weightlifting and left behind by lengths in swimming competitions [by trans-identifying males].
“Talk of undefined ‘gender identities’ does not change this unfairness based on biological realities. Lehmann, however, seems indifferent to women's interests.”
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Just two days after the five authors’ guest column appeared, Springer’s chief executive, Mathias Döpfner, distanced the publisher from the column, saying it had “caused outrage of a special kind” on a social topic “particularly close to my heart”.
“The whole tone [of the article] is superficial, condescending and resentful — not far from the reactionary attitude that homosexuality is a disease, that transsexuality is imagination,” he wrote in Die Welt. “It is sweepingly implied [by the authors] that there are only two gender identities.
“For all those who feel part of the LGBTIAQ+ community, it is a violation and an imposition.”
Even so, Döpfner defended the right of guest columnists to push the boundaries of debate.
He recommended the authors watch the film The Danish Girl for its portrayal of “a marriage that remains a great love, even when the man in the relationship becomes a woman step-by-step. The agonising inner development and the brutal outer social reaction to it are emotionally, inescapably developed”.
Döpfner also expressed his dismay that in protest at the guest column, the organisers of a “queer jobs fair” called Sticks and Stones had uninvited Springer from taking part this year, which he thought unfair.
He protested that Springer, a company active in 40 countries, was home to a “global LGBTIAQ+ network” of more than 800 employees, and had “not only accepted different sexual identities and lifestyles for years, but even explicitly promotes them — from safe zones and all-gender toilets to a deeply liberal corporate culture”.
He signed off by wishing Springer employees “a happy Pride Month — perhaps it will be a little more reflective than planned, but that's not a bad thing either.”
Professor Steinhoff said reader reaction to their supposedly offensive column had been overwhelmingly positive, implicitly rebuking Lehmann and Döpfner.
“That shows that this is a huge issue, and that the majority of the population is on our side, as soon as they know what's going on,” he said.
“But public TV has absolutely no interest in informing people what's actually going on, because the moment they do this, the self-ID law will go down the drain.”
Döpfner received another rebuke from a prominent journalist, Judith Sevinç Basad, who resigned this month from the staff of the Springer masthead Bild.
In her “Trigger Warning” Substack newsletter, she explained that she had been preparing an article about the controversy at Die Welt and had interviewed Dr Korte, one of the five authors of the guest column.
Dr Korte had said to her: “[The June 1 open letter] is not meant to discredit transsexual people — whose existence we accept and for whose suffering we have the utmost respect. Nor is it about children not being educated about their sexuality at an early age. The [letter] is about warning against dangerous misinformation, such as denial of biological facts and the fairy tale of polysexuality; in short, the spreading of unscientific facts”.
But Basad said she was told her article would not appear in Bild unless she were critical of the open letter.
“I was asked to negatively portray exactly what I have been fighting for with full idealism for years: to warn against the dangers of woke activism.”
The very next day, she said, Döpfner’s letter to Springer staff showed the company had bowed to these same activists, and the chief executive himself was misrepresenting the open letter and its scientist signatories.
“No issue has driven me out of my mind as a journalist as the activism of a small minority that officially claims to stand for diversity but pursues an ideology that is radical at its core,” she wrote.
“For years, I have watched even huge corporations cave in to the totalitarian demands of woke activists.
“These issues [to do with gender and race] are a hot potato. Anyone who writes about them must expect harsh hostility, which always follows the same pattern: statements are deliberately taken out of context and misrepresented in order to defame critical voices as ‘right-wing’ and thus throw them out of the discourse.
“Trans activists — who represent one of the crudest assertions that the 21st century has produced: that biological sex does not exist — are particularly aggressive.
“The entire criticism of the dossier and [the column in Die Welt] refers to an unscientific ideology that increasingly influences public broadcasting: the claim that one can change one's biological sex by a simple speech act.
“That you [Döpfner], as the head of Axel Springer, misrepresent this fact, that you thereby actually deny there are two biological sexes (but in the same breath accuse the [guest column] authors of ‘pseudoscience’), that you defame the authors and their entire critique as agitation against minorities, even as homophobic, and muzzle their critical voice in the best manner of the cancel culture — that shook me deeply and still shakes me now.
“It shocked me that the colossus Axel Springer, which regularly takes aim at the world's worst dictators, suddenly allows itself to be brought to its knees by the inane propaganda of a woke minority, while also deriding its own journalists as misanthropes.”
A spokesman for Döpfner said the article submitted by Basad was “a belated retelling of the story in Die Welt”, and therefore did not meet Bild’s journalistic standards.