23,800. That’s the number of people who liked Piers Morgan’s tweet mocking Sam Smith for coming out as non-binary.
87,400. That’s the number of people who liked a follow-up tweet mocking the experiences of transgender people.
700,000. That’s the average number of viewers who watch Piers Morgan co-present ITV’s leading breakfast programme, Good Morning Britain (GMB).
Here’s three more statistics.
250,000. That’s the number of transgender people in the UK who have attempted suicide.[i]
1,944. That’s how many transgender hate crimes were reported in England, Scotland and Wales in 2018.
36. That’s how old Naomi Hersi was when she was stabbed and killed for being a transgender woman of colour.
In 2015, Piers Morgan became a permanent co-host of GMB. As a reward for a career in journalism defined by photograph-fabrication and phone-hacking, the disgraced ex-talent-show host was bestowed with a television platform capable of reaching 1 million daily viewers. During his tenure, Piers Morgan has become increasingly devoted to one particular cause: waging a crusade against the transgender community.
Profoundly courageous guests are no doubt invited onto the show on the pretence that it’s an opportunity to raise awareness about their lived trans experience. But instead, they are forced to justify their existence to a man who shows no willingness whatsoever to understand it. At best, their existence is something to be debated. At worst, their identity is weaponised against them by somebody who would rather they live in despair than to address them by their preferred pronoun. Instead of empowering trans people, Morgan empowers trolls who now have a renewed sense that their malice towards a marginalised community is entirely legitimate.
Morgan relies most heavily on a recurring tactic of dehumanisation, comparing those who take ownership of their gender identity to somebody who wants to identify as an elephant, monkey or penguin. And his pernicious attempt at humour does not represent some rogue rant that’s passively tolerated. Accompanied by photoshopped images of the presenter as various animals on screen, his transphobia represents an editorial decision by one of the UK’s leading broadcasting networks. When there’s a profit to be made, the suffering of trans people is a cheap source of entertainment.
With ITV’s wilful assistance, Morgan has successfully positioned himself as a brave voice standing up for those who feel alienated in a “world that’s gone mad.” His greatest success, though, is not just his ability to convince his supporters of who he is. It’s his ability to convince his critics of who he is as well. Morgan is widely perceived as a pantomime villain, an ephemeral sack of drivelous yet amusing irrelevance. In fact, he is neither. Underneath his loud and abrasive sensationalism is something much more sinister: he is a dangerous enabler of oppression.
89% of young trans people have contemplated suicide. And they are driven to this desperation by those who are obsessed with denying them their humanity. The truth is that these kids’ loss of life is probably of no interest to Morgan, given that he thinks their existence is “unnecessary” anyway. Most distressingly, he has described transgender people as a “a contagion.” It wasn’t long ago that Katie Hopkins was sacked from LBC after calling for a “final solution” to Muslim migration. Both statements, which employ language of extermination, are taken straight from the same fascist playbook.
Morgan is much more harmful than his aura of attention-desperation appears, namely because his hate speech is a form of violence itself. This violence is not restricted to transgender people; it’s unleashed on the entire LGBT+ community. When he called them “pathetic, spineless little snowflakes” who “cower in [their] self-righteous safe space,” he became complicit in the brutal assault of a two queer women on a London bus. Refusing to provide sexual entertainment for a group of men, they were attacked by thugs who, like Morgan, didn’t think they deserved a safe space either. He can, therefore, proudly wear his medal of honour as a warrior against LGBT+ people. Whether it’s hate-speech, assault, murder or suicide, Piers Morgan is complicit in every single act of violence enacted against them.
Morgan’s hatred has not just been facilitated by ITV. More deeply, it has been facilitated by an excessively individualistic notion of freedom of speech, which is something he regularly uses to justify his transphobia. Our society is obsessed with the moral worth of the individual and the individual only. It’s this obsession that has discouraged people like Morgan from attaching any importance to the way that others are affected by their behaviour. As excessive individualism has infiltrated public discourse, notions of respect, care and the common good have disintegrated. As a result, people have been convinced that their right to speak freely outweighs their responsibility to treat others with compassion.
In my view, it’s difficult to understand the impact of individualism without analysing its economic, neoliberal manifestation. You might remember the harrowing video last year in which a group of white men and women laughed as they burnt an effigy of Grenfell Tower. In August, Paul Bussetti was cleared of charges after transmitting the video via WhatsApp. Apparently, his right to laugh at the destruction of black and brown bodies was something worth protecting. The right to safe housing for the 72 people who burned alive, however, was not. In an individualistic economy, rights to express hatred are sacrosanct, because any cost is shifted onto the individual being denigrated. But rights to resources are eroded, because the market decides that they are too expensive to collectively satisfy.
This kind of structural analysis helps us understand Morgan’s selectiveness about the kind of speech he deems worthy of protection and the kind of speech he does not. He has condemned those protesting against climate breakdown. He wanted to prohibit the balloon of baby-Trump from being flown in London. And he has called Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna S. Pressley “shrieking socialist snowflake sisters.” Those using their freedom of speech to erode capitalist structures should, in Morgan’s words, “shut up.” Apparently, freedom of speech isn’t so valuable when it’s being used to challenge structures of domination. That’s because, for Morgan, freedom of speech should only be used to uphold these structures instead. He isn’t interested in expanding people’s spheres of freedom. Rather, he has co-opted the idea of free-speech and cherry-picked liberal terminology in order to defend his right to offend, aggrieve and oppress others.
Ultimately, appealing to freedom of speech to justify hatred is to obfuscate what it means to speak freely in the first place. Morgan’s right to open his mouth is one thing. But his right to be heard is something else entirely. The dominant narrative wants us to believe that we can debate our way out of bigotry. But for those who experience violence on a daily basis, it’s desperately unclear how they benefit from Morgan’s unabated right to reject their existence. The mere fact that Morgan’s freedom of speech is driving human beings to suicide should disqualify him from the incredibly wide platform he is given to exercise it.
This means a Labour government, for starters, must restructure the powers and standards of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). They should be given greater authority to penalise networks such as GMB for legitimising hate speech. IPSO must be democratically owned by the public so that oppressed groups can be safeguarded against harmful bigotry.
But while we wait, we must do everything in our power to ensure that Morgan’s career lies in the same place as his moral authority: the gutter. That’s why I’ve signed the petition to remove Piers Morgan from GMB. You should too. We all have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our society, which is why it’s a matter of urgency that Piers Morgan is de-platformed for good. At the very least, abolishing him from our screens will help people keep their breakfast down in the morning.
Sign the petition to remove Piers Morgan from GMB here: https://www.change.org/p/itv-remove-piers-morgan-from-good-morning-britain-eb0bbf26-46e3-4c18-91e8-3ef67d39ec2b
[i] I arrived at this figure by combining the UK Government Equalities Office’s estimated figure for the UK’s trans population (200,000 – 500,000) with Stonewall’s research showing 50% of trans people have attempted suicide. I took the higher estimate, given that the total population of openly trans people is most likely underestimated.