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Offer big TV roles to transgender actors, urges Ed Vaizey

Published 03/11/2015

Ed Vaizey called for social media firms to do more to tackle online abuse suffered by transgender people
Ed Vaizey called for social media firms to do more to tackle online abuse suffered by transgender people

TV bosses should offer leading roles to transgender actors, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has suggested.

The minister said the success of transgender star Laverne Cox in Netflix series Orange Is The New Black and the Amazon Prime show Transparent showed broadcasters "the sky is not going to fall on your head" if they pursue a diversity agenda.

Mr Vaizey also called for social media firms to do more to tackle online abuse suffered by transgender people.

Appearing before the Women and Equalities Committee, Mr Vaizey said he wanted to see more prominent roles for transgender actors without making a "big deal" of their gender identity.

Tory MP Maria Caulfield accused media organisations of "sensationalising trans issues" and said people were only seen "in terms of coming out" as transgender rather than their day-to-day lives.

Mr Vaizey said: "I think that's probably a valid criticism.

"There is an ongoing issue that people can be put into the category that they are identified as, and not seen doing mainstream occupations.

"So if you cast someone who is transgender you might be doing it because you want to make a big deal out of the fact that they are transgender, and I would much rather see somebody cast as a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a policeman, an MP who also happens to be transgender.

"There is something in that critique of broadcasters and I hope that more and more we will see people from the transgender community - as indeed from other communities that are under-represented on our screens - cast in mainstream roles and their background is irrelevant in that respect."

He said broadcasters needed to move faster on the issue, citing the success of the online streaming shows Orange Is The New Black and Transparent, which revolves around a family coming to terms with the news that their father is transgender.

"Not seeing this as somehow exotic but completely mainstream is really important," he said. "You have only got to see the success of people like Laverne Cox on Netflix or the success of Transparent on Amazon Prime to see that the sky is not going to fall on your head if you keep pushing ahead with this agenda and they have really got to move faster.

"We continue to engage with them and we continue to call them out on it."

He said the Creative Diversity Network's Project Diamond would monitor diversity data " so there won't be any hiding place".

Labour MP Jess Philips, who has been subjected to online abuse including rape threats, said a "significant number" of transgender people suffer hate attacks online.

Mr Vaizey said he had not found social media firms "particularly forthcoming" in addressing the issue.

He said: "We all know about people's concerns about what is called Twitter trolling and the kind of abuse people receive online. I think it's pretty shocking.

"Clearly, on the one hand, there is straightforward legal action so if people do threaten other people on Twitter or in other social forums you can, in theory, report that to the police and the police can take legal action where they deem it to be serious enough, but I don't think that is adequate.

"I have engaged with the social media companies in the past. I haven't found them particularly forthcoming in coming forward with what I would regard as a straightforward ask, not really of government but of society, that there should be a clear code of conduct and there should be a clear process for people who use social media to complain - it should be easy to complain; to have a response - you should expect a response within a certain period of time; to potentially have arbitration - because it may be that the social media company says 'we don't regard that as a serious issue, despite the fact that you have complained to us', so there should be some form of arbitration."

Mr Vaizey said the Government had followed a self-regulatory approach with online firms.

"We have not gone down the road of seeking formal regulation," he said. "We haven't tried to bring social media companies within any broadcasting regulation or press regulation, we have tended to treat the internet from a self-regulatory perspective as opposed to a statutory regulatory perspective."

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