A screenwriter for the Doctor Who television series has had his work pulled from an upcoming anthology based on the show due to his views on transgenderism, igniting debate on censorship and companies caving in to pressure.
The book of Doctor Who short stories, which will be published by BBC Books, was not set to be announced until later this month – but the contribution from writer Gareth Roberts was leaked in advance and caused uproar among many LGBT activists, who began calling for it to be removed.
Some were even riled up and incensed by old jokes Roberts had posted on Twitter in 2017 about transgender women and the “glamorous” names they choose. To add insult to injury, other contributors even threatened to withdraw if Roberts was involved.
Conservative British journalist Toby Young drew attention to the decision on Twitter, calling it an “affront to free speech” by a “publicly-owned company.”
BBC Books is not publicly owned, however, but is a subsidiary of Penguin Random House, in which the BBC is a minority shareholder.
In a statement on the controversy, Roberts, who is gay himself, confirmed that BBC Books had “immediately folded” in the face of activists’ demands and had told him that, although he would be paid, his story would not be published as it could make the book “economically unviable.”
In the statement, Roberts wrote that, while he had always “rejected restrictive cultural gender stereotypes,” he also believes it is “impossible for a person to change their biological sex”and thinks nobody is “born in the wrong body.”
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Debate raged on Twitter, however, where some were delighted to see Roberts’ work had been dropped from the book, citing his “transphobia” and commending BBC Books for ditching him.
Others felt the controversy was being mis-framed as a free speech issue, saying that it was a simple case of fans and writers having “had enough” of him. His opinions are “not compatible with what the show preaches,” another added.
Some said that while they weren’t big fans, censoring or blacklisting writers for their opinions was a slippery slope. “There’s never been a time when blacklisting writers or other creatives for ideological reasons was a good thing,” one fellow writer tweeted.
Then there were those who called out the anti-Roberts activists, calling them “intolerant bullies” and “lunatics” who favor“mob rule”against people with differing opinions.
“Sad how those who like to think of themselves as ‘liberal’ are often the ones calling for boycotts & curtailing of free speech,” one mused.