Britain’s shadow equalities minister has called for a press that challenges transphobia, rather than fuels it.
Kate Green made the comments at as transgender campaigners and politicians met in Britain’s Parliament to discuss UK press coverage of trans issues and individuals.
The meeting in the House of Commons last night (15 May) was organized by LGBT Labour, the gay and trans group of the opposition party.
A packed meeting, attended by around three dozen members of the trans community, their allies and Labour Members of Parliament (MP), heard from a series of key speakers, including Green, the shadow equalities minister.
Green kicked off the meeting by condemning what she saw as the ‘disgusting’ treatment of Lucy Meadows – a woman criticized for being both a teacher and trans by the tabloid press who later committed suicide.
Green described the ‘chilling effect’ press intrusion has on inclusion and respect for individuals.
She said: ‘What is needed is a press that is positive-minded and challenges transphobia – not fuels it.
‘Leveson [last year’s report into standards in the British media] was important: the way forward, in the form of a Royal Commission is on the table. It is now for government to follow through on commitments given.’
Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch argued the issue is not existing press guidelines: which she said were, for the most part, adequate.
And she said other issues are covered by the law, particularly human rights and data protection legislation. But she warned these rules and guidelines were regularly flouted and ignored.
She said: ‘A shocking statistic is how recent surveys suggest some 21% of trans people suffer verbal abuse, and 8% are physically abused, as a result of negative and sensational media coverage.
‘In the end, though, it is not about more rules and regulation: it is about press culture – and that needs to change.’
Natacha Kennedy, LGBT Labour committee member, said teachers feared being outed.
She spoke of how one class teacher had been forbidden to use her (legal) female name – and how many lived their lives with one eye over their shoulder, waiting for the tabloids to pounce.
Parents and children too were victims of intrusion, she claimed.
She said: ‘Too many teachers and parents are afraid to assert their legitimate legal rights for fear of being outed in the media.’
Kennedy’s concerns were echoed by a member of the National Union of Teachers who later spoke from the audience, to reveal that a recent survey suggest some 95% of trans teachers were putting off transition until they had left the profession.
Some even preferred unemployment to transitioning while in a job.
Press Complaints Commission (PCC) lay member Simon Sapper admitted he found it hard to think of a more victimized community.
He claimed the PCC was sympathetic.
But, he added: ‘The PCC cannot deal with “generic” complaints of the sort raised following Julie Burchill’s article. [Burchill is a national newspaper columnist who was recently accused of transphobia, sparking widespread protest.]
‘In the end, it comes down to editors knowing what is right and wrong: many of the challenges in this area had more to do with simple human rights than press regulation.’
And trans journalist Paris Lees spoke of her own experience.
She told of how, after years of being bullied simply for being who she was, it was positive images of trans individuals such as Nadia Almeda on British reality TV show Big Brother that helped her realize she was not alone.
She, too, felt it was less about rules and regulations, more about culture, saying: ‘Words matter. Images matter.’
And she spoke about All About Trans, an organization supported by the BBC, Lees is presently working with.
She argued initiatives like this, bringing together the media and trans community, will make more difference than merely complaining.
Delia Johnson, previously Olympic ambassador for diversity – and now carrying out a similar function on behalf of the Football Association (FA), described how fear of press coverage had impacted on her career.
She said the Olympic organizers had been worried when she took the role she may be attacked by the media and how the FA was also worried they may face a press onslaught simply for employing a trans woman.
Yesterday’s meeting follows the announcement by the Press Complaints Commission on Monday (13 May) it had decided ‘to issue editorial guidance for journalists on how to report on transgender issues in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Editors’ Code of Practice’.