A BBC presenter came to blows with the CEO of an LGBTQ+ publication this morning during a heated debate over a controversial Stonewall scheme.
Pink News CEO Benjamin Cohen was invited onto the Today Programme to discuss Stonewall’s new diversity scheme.
But he attacked BBC Radio 4 Today host Justin Webb, accusing him of failing to invite a ‘a single trans voice’ on, before slamming Webb for daring to discuss the issue despite being ‘cisgender.’
Webb hit back: ‘Number one, you don’t know anything about me. Number two, I asked you a question, so would you answer it?’
After several minutes, the seemingly exasperated host cut Cohen, 38, off and moved straight on to the weather forecast.
The furious exchange sparked a fierce debate on social media, with Cohen facing a backlash for being ‘aggressive and unhinged’ in what many labelled a ‘car crash interview.’
Cohen had been invited on to the show alongside Simon Fanshawe, co-founder and former member of Stonewall.
They were discussing Stonewall’s diversity scheme, which has been met with anger in recent days from critics accusing the equality charity of creating a ‘culture of fear’ among workers who disagree with transgender ideology.
Benjamin Cohen, CEO of PinkNews, highlighted the fact that the BBC had failed to include ‘a single trans voice’ in the debate on transgender rights
Benjamin Cohen: Pink News founder, activist and former dot.com millionaire
Benjamin Cohen is a journalist and entrepreneur who founded LGBT website Pink News in 2005 and now serves as its CEO.
Previously the 38-year-old worked for Channel 4 and the BBC after making a name for himself as a technology entrepreneur.
During the dot.com boom he founded Jewish Net (later soJewish), an early social network, and later CyberBritain a search engine that charged for sponsored listings.
He recently married Anthony James, 31, a GP and now corporate strategy director of Pink News. Their wedding was profiled by Hello!, which described them as a power couple.
Mr Cohen has been diagnosed with MS and campaigns for LGBT and disabled rights.
Stonewall claims its Workplace Equality Index, which allows employers to ‘measure their progress on lesbian, gay, bi and trans inclusion in the workplace’, makes companies more attractive to prospective employees.
The group has issued guidance to employers wanting to make the cut on its index, which has attracted more than 500 applications in the last year.
The interview began with Today host Webb asking Cohen if it was ‘perfectly acceptable’ for women to campaign for single-sex spaces not to include those who have changed gender.
Cohen initially refused to answer the question, telling Webb: ‘The BBC has decided to have a debate with two different gay people talking about trans issues, and it’s quite odd.
‘I’m a cisgender man, I’m not transgender. Simon is also not transgender. You’re not transgender. So, once again it’s a debate about trans issues about a single trans voice being heard.’
A furious Webb then hit back: ‘Number one, you don’t know anything about me. Number two, I asked you a question would you answer it.’
Mr Cohen continued: ‘You made the statement which is that the provisions around who gets access to single sex Spaces has changed. That hasn’t changed. The Equality Act was passed in 2010, there’s been no changes to that.’
Webb replied: ‘What I’m suggesting is Stonewall would like to change it. And a lot of women are worried about that.’
To which Mr Cohen said: ‘You just claimed that, but that’s not actually true. So Stonewall supports self ID, which is simply about paperwork.
‘So you’ve been able to self ID for practical purposes for the Equality Act since 2010, that’s 11 years ago.’
When asked if safe spaces for women such as women’s refuges were ‘protected’ in Stonewall’s campaign, Mr Cohen said they ‘continue to be protected’ and said he didn’t believe Stonewall had said ‘that those spaces should be open to trans people.’
Campaign group Women’s Place UK tweeted: ‘Benjamin Cohen CEO P*nk News claims it is untrue that the organisation is campaigning for the removal of the single sex exemptions in the Equality Act… It is.’
The car-crash interview comes as the LGBTQ+ rights group Stonewall is facing a Whitehall exodus from its diversity scheme amid concerns over its ‘extreme’ stance on transgender rights.
Government departments, led by the Ministry of Justice, are beginning to question the ‘value for money’ of belonging to a league table of employers which is compiled by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans charity.
Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, is understood to be preparing to withdraw his department from the scheme.
Critics of the equality group say its pronouncements on trans issues are anti-free speech.
Last week it emerged Stonewall had advised organisations to boost their rankings on its equality ratings table by replacing the term ‘mother’ with ‘parent who has given birth’.
It also tells member organisations that those who self-identify as women must be allowed to use female lavatories and changing rooms, a stance that has angered some feminists.
Actress Kathy Burke tweeted: ‘If you’re told that you should include a trans person when discussing trans rights you shouldn’t get the hump about it’
Mr Cohen took to Twitter to criticise the lack of a ‘transgender voice’ on the programme
The car-crash interview comes as the LGBTQ+ rights group Stonewall is facing a Whitehall exodus from its diversity scheme
Who is Justin Webb?
Justin Webb was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, and grew up in Bath.
He was educated at Sidcot School, a Quaker school in Somerset, and studied at the London School of Economics where he was editor of student newspaper The Beaver.
Webb joined the BBC in 1984 on their graduate trainee programme where he worked for BBC Radio Ulster based in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
In 2001 Webb moved to the United States as the BBC’s chief Washington correspondent and in 2009 returned to the UK to replace Edward Stourton on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘It’s a shame, as this was once an organisation that did incredibly important work, but it has totally lost its way and the ministers just don’t think it’s justifiable to give Stonewall taxpayers’ money,’ an MoJ source told the Sunday Telegraph.
‘The department will be just as welcoming to LGBT people as before, but we really shouldn’t be paying thousands of pounds for controversial advice about pronouns and gender-neutral spaces.’
The source predicted the MoJ would be the first in an ‘exodus’ of Government departments.
Several organisations, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the employment dispute service Acas, have pulled out of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions scheme blaming cost reasons. On Friday it emerged that Channel 4 had also withdrawn.
The Stonewall scheme has 250 Government departments and public bodies among its members. They pay thousands of pounds for guidance and are ranked on the charity’s Workplace Equality Index for their ‘progress on lesbian, gay, bi and trans inclusion in the workplace’.
‘It has totally lost its way’
A BBC spokesman told MailOnline: ‘The item was about the increasing number of organisations discontinuing their membership of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme as opposed to a broader discussion about trans and women’s rights issues.
‘Stonewall turned down an invitation to appear on the programme. Mr Cohen was invited on as a representative with a connection to Stonewall and someone who broadly supports them. In all coverage we work to ensure a range of views and perspectives.’
Stonewall: The controversial LGBT charity which has come under fire in recent weeks
Just this week, the Equalities Minister Liz Truss said she wanted the Government to quit a diversity scheme run by Stonewall amid a row over trans rights.
Miss Truss is said to be pushing for departments to join the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Acas in dropping the Diversity Champions scheme over fears it is not providing value for money.
After criticism from the gay former Conservative MP Matthew Parris, Ms Kelley told the BBC: ‘With all beliefs including controversial beliefs there is a right to express those beliefs publicly and where they’re harmful or damaging – whether it’s anti-Semitic beliefs, gender critical beliefs, beliefs about disability – we have legal systems that are put in place for people who are harmed by that.’
According to Stonewall there are more than 850 organisations, including 250 government departments and public bodies such as police forces, local councils and NHS trusts, signed up as ‘diversity champions’.
Membership to the scheme starts at around £2,500, which according to the LGBT charity’s website, buys employers access to expert advice and resources to make their workplaces ‘inclusive’.
However, the charity was embroiled in a new row over transgender rights last week, when its chief executive Nancy Kelley likened ‘gender critical’ beliefs to anti-Semitism as she defended its pro-trans campaigning.
The EHRC, Britain’s equalities watchdog, then cut ties with a Stonewall scheme for ‘woke’ workplaces after claims that it curbs free speech among staff.
Its decision comes amid accusations the scheme is encouraging public bodies and firms to adopt policies that create a ‘culture of fear’ among workers who disagree with transgender ideology.
A letter to the feminist campaign group Sex Matters from new commission chairman Baroness Falkner revealed: ‘We wrote to Stonewall in March to let them know that we would not be renewing our membership, and this has now expired.’
Charles Wide, a retired Old Bailey judge, said last month only an ‘limited range’ of views was being sought out to advise on a possible expansion of legislation.
The government currently looking at expanding hate crimes, and the Law Commission is consulting on whether misogyny, age, sex workers, homelessness, and some subcultures should become protected groups.
But the judge fears the Commission’s over reliance on certain campaign groups has seen it move away from its non-political brief to draw on ‘contentious and controversial sociological theories’.
Writing for the think tank Policy Exchange, he said: ‘No adequate thought seems to have been given to the difficulty of reaching beyond a limited range of academics and organisations to the full variety of academic voices, organisations, commentators and members of the public who have no organisation to speak for them.’
He singled out LGBT campaigners Stonewall, saying the Commission was treating them more like ‘a consultant than consultee’.