Dear UK Radio Industry,

I’m Jacob Edward, I use they/them pronouns, and I currently present Drivetime on Gaydio. You may also know me as the first nonbinary person to host a show on BBC Radio 1. Today I would like to address a topic close to my heart: the lack of transgender and nonbinary voices in this industry, the institutional transphobia we face and the barriers this puts in our way. I’ll also be suggesting what you, as people with the power to create the future of this amazing industry, can do about it.

As a nonbinary person who grew up loving radio, I didn’t see myself represented on air at all. When reading Ofcom’s Diversity and Equal Opportunities in Radio report for 2019 I was upset to discover that nonbinary identities aren’t acknowledged or reported on at all. There are binary gender options, and questions related to sexuality, but the only mention of transgender people is in relation to time off work for surgery. This only serves to erase us from conversations about diversity before they have even started.

There is so much more to being trans than surgery, UK LGBT Charity Stonewall states that “being trans isn’t about having (or not having) particular body parts. It’s something that’s absolutely core to a trans person’s identity and doesn’t alter – whatever outward appearances might be”. I urge Ofcom to include data, however small it may be, on trans and nonbinary people in a meaningful way in their next diversity report. Consult trans and nonbinary people, ask us our needs, and listen to our voices to ensure that this inclusion is done in a non-tokenistic way.

The sheer number of messages from trans & nonbinary people I received after my time on BBC Radio 1 helped me to understand just how rare a voice like mine was on air. The radio industry is notoriously difficult to break into, which is a problem of itself. The fact that there has only been one out transgender radio presenter with a regular show on mainstream radio in the UK however, alongside the fact I can count the number of trans & nonbinary producers I know on one hand, suggests a further barrier: subtle and deep rooted transphobia.

In 2019 I was actively seeking new radio opportunities and often found that my identity as a non-binary person was frequently referenced by cisgender producers and programme managers in response to my emails and applications.

“You shouldn’t mention your ‘they’ title on air as it’s off putting and confusing for the listener” and “people won’t take you seriously if you say you identify as they/them on air” are only a few  examples of the feedback I’ve received on my journey into the radio industry. When I was first offered the amazing opportunity of hosting a show on BBC Radio 1, this past feedback lead to deep inner conflict about being out as nonbinary on air at all.

Pronouns are a really important part of a transgender or non-binary person’s identity. Gendered Intelligence, a national charity focussing on transgender rights, says “words we use to describe ourselves can play an enormous part in our lives”. This is more than just a soundbite quote – it proves that pronouns, which let people know how to address us in the third person (especially when the pronouns we use aren’t common singular pronouns) are so important. 

Sam Smith, for example, came out as non-binary like me in 2019. They are arguably the most famous nonbinary person in the media spotlight today, and hearing them regularly misgendered on air not only hurts, but only goes to reinforce that radio just isn’t an inclusive or safe space for people like me.

Radio is a gateway into people’s everyday lives. It is a medium that has the power to further equality and diversity, and to normalise things like introducing your pronouns alongside your name. It’s not just trans people who have pronouns, everyone does. The radio industry may be primarily made up of cisgender people, but you have the power to help.

Most radio presenters say their name on air at least once per link. Change is never easy, but adding “I use she/her pronouns” after you say your name on air makes you an amazing ally to the LGBTQ+ community by helping to normalise introducing your pronouns. In time then, it won’t just be seen as “just a trans thing”.

Radio stations can also help their presenters by adding artists’ pronouns into their playout systems. Gaydio, who I’ve worked with since 2018, has recently implemented this and it has had a hugely positive impact on the confidence of our presenters in not misgendering artists like Sam Smith after playing one of their tracks. 

Music radio is not the only place in which small changes could help bring about a better environment for transgender and non-binary people. In talk radio and talk programming, gender identity and the human rights of transgender people should never be seen as a casual debate topic. When you invite people who hold transphobic views onto your shows you are platforming hate speech. This does nothing but legitimise transphobia, the result of which is almost always seen as an increase in hate crime against transgender and nonbinary people. Last year saw an 81% rise in recorded hate crimes against trans people, and in his analysis for BBC News, LGBT Correspondent Ben Hunte said

“Transgender people have their existence debated on a near daily basis across UK media, and several activists believe this negative attention reinforces the poor treatment they receive on our streets” 

Debating the existence of trans people is harmful and once you see us as human, we can move onto conversations that actually have a positive impact, such as trans healthcare. Talk programming in particular is uniquely equipped to improve this conversation.

Change is not beyond the reach of this industry. Here are some simple and easy-to-implement things that people at all levels within the radio world can do to help to facilitate this:

  • Ofcom to engage with the transgender and non-binary community with a view to building appropriate visibility outside of the gender binary in their next Diversity and Equal Opportunities in Radio report.
  • Radio stations, producers, and editors to introduce and normalise the idea of all presenters, cisgender or otherwise, to introduce their pronouns alongside their names on air. This could be posters in studios, notes on show prep, etc…
  • Stations to add all artist pronouns to their playout systems.
  • All talk radio and talk show producers to colsult with the transgender/non-binary community before scheduling and airing trans-related topics to ensure that debates are productive rather than harmful. This includes ensuring diversity so that the same trans voices are not heard every time, avoiding bias and the airing of views that do not accurately represent the community as a whole.
  • Station managers, programmes managers, hiring managers, and industry leaders to commit to creating an LGBTQ+ training and hiring pledge with a specific focus on building more roles and opportunities for transgender and non-binary presenters, producers, and creative staff.

Self-doubt and imposter syndrome are real, valid obstacles for anyone wanting to enter the radio industry from a marginalised background. It’s a hard industry to get started in for anyone, but these compounding factors don’t need to exist. Representation holds the key to that change. 

The world needs more trans and nonbinary people both on air and off air in radio. This is especially important at a time like this when the media is full of transphobia and, as stated earlier, hate crime against trans people has increased drastically. Essentially: without us you are missing out on unique and authentic voices that people need to hear.

Thanks for listening,

Jacob Edward (They/Them)

Presenter, Gaydio Drive

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This letter is supported and co-signed by the following 40 people:

Jake Common (He/They) – Production Coordinator & Freelancer

Leila Al-Mitwally (She/Her) – Freelance Assistant Producer, BBC Radio 1/1Xtra/Asian Network

Fleur Ostojak (She/Her) – Journalism Co-ordinator & Presenter

Kestral Gaian (She/They) – Freelance Producer

Ellen Orchard (She/Her) – Assistant Producer, The Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show, BBC 6 Music

Tim Senna (He/Him) – BBC Radio 1 Freelance Producer/BBC Introducing Cover Presenter

Dan Facey (He/Him) – Producer / Journalism Co-Ordinator, BBC Radio Oxford

James Barr (He/Him) – Host, Hits Radio, Hits Radio Pride/Bauer media & A Gay and A NonGay Podcast

Jack Bennett (He/They) – Freelance Marketing, IO Radio. Host, Over and Out, IO Radio

Holly Morsley (She/They) – Output Producer for Gaydio NW, Producer & Presenter for QPN

Alice Bowers (They/Them) – Host, Over and Out, IO Radio

Antony Murphy (He/Him) – Presenter at Gaydio

Jay Liburd (He/Him) – Host, IO radio, Over and Out, What Trends

Matt Crabb (He/Him) – Editor at Gaydio

Matt Podd (He/Him) – Station Sound Producer

William J Connolly (He/Him) – Journalist

Nic Kelly (He/Him) – Presenter, Hit Network, Australia

Seb Cheer (He/Him) – Freelance Multimedia Journalist

Jamie Woods (She/Her) – Head of Operations at Insanity Radio, Technical Development Officer at Student Radio Association

Seb White (They/She) – Head of Alphabet Radio / Freelance Executive Producer

Alex Baker (He/Him) – Programmes Manager, Gaydio Brighton

Eugenio Ceriello (He/Him) – GlitterBeam Station Manager

Chloe Monahan (She/Her) – Presenter & Engineer on Hospital Radio

Laurie Charlesworth (She/Her) – Presenter, Vibe 107.6

Tom Hall (He/Him) – Imaging Producer, Bauer Media

Jake Otajovic (He/Him) – Presenter at Decadance & Junior Producer at Message Heard

Deanna Nessling (She/Her) – Host, Over and Out & What Trends, IO Radio

Toni Huggins-Cooper (They/Them) – Quasistellar Object (QSO)

Alastair James (He/Him) – Broadcast Journalist, BBC Wales

Alex Burnett (He/Him) – Technical Operations at Gaydio

Lloyd Best (He/Him) – Artist / New Music Editor (God Is In The TV)

Sam Kelly (He/Him) – Producer, IO Radio

Bruce MacGregor (He/Him) – Director, Ipswich Community Media

Angelle Joseph (She/Her) – Freelance presenter, BBC Introducing/ BBC Radio Suffolk

Rory Boyle (He/Him) – Transmission Roundhouse, Queer Ear Podcast

Lewis Wilkinson (He/Him) – Advertising Manager – Gaydio

Giania Mesina (She/Her) – Producer, Vibe 107.6 & Rinse FM

Rob Gillett (He/Him) – Founder & Presenter, Queerly Radio

Kriss Herbert (He/Him) – Presenter and Production Manager Gaydio

Nigel May (He/Him) – Presenter at Gaydio