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Trans people victims of 'horrific' press coverage

Trans Media Watch hopes Leveson Inquiry will 'empower' trans people to make a difference
Trans Media Watch treasurer Helen Belcher appeared at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday

A charity hopes transgender people will be 'empowered' after hearing evidence given at the Leveson Inquiry.

Trans Media Watch (TMW) treasurer, Helen Belcher, yesterday appeared at the inquiry which has been investigating invasions of privacy by the British press since November.

She hailed the hearing as 'massively important' for trans people, who she says have been the victims of 'horrific and damaging' press coverage.

'Trans people generally haven’t had their voice heard, especially through the press,' Belcher told Gay Star News.

'To be able to give evidence at a key public inquiry about key public issues and bring a trans voice to that table is hugely important.

'I hope it actually empowers trans and intersex people to feel they can make a difference.'

In evidence submitted to the inquiry, TMW claim the media has 'created a climate of prejudice' against trans people and Belcher says people have lost jobs and homes, been verbally and physically assaulted and received death threats as a result.

She pointed to headlines in tabloid newspapers as evidence of continuing transphobia in the press.

The Daily Mail, she claims, prints six times more stories about trans people than any other newspaper.

And a recent story by The Sun called 'Tran-o-saurus', about a particularly tall trans person, suggests the paper has not 'changed its ways' says Belcher, despite the Press Complaints Commission's Code of Conduct protecting gender identity in the same way as race, disability and sexuality.

Belcher told the inquiry the 'trans community has more or less walked away from the PCC', claiming 'nothing ever changes' as a result of complaints to the organization.

She believes the answer is an independent press regulator with an ombudsman scheme where trans and intersex people can feel supported and make sure their voices are heard properly.

'We’re not aiming to censor or stifle press,' Belcher said to GSN.

'What I really miss is accuracy, dignity and respect for trans and intersex people. That’s something which has been very badly lacking'

'Any replacement or development of the PCC has to have real teeth and people should be able to be adequately compensated for the damage the press does in lots of incidences'

Belcher says there's a huge amount of ignorance in the press about how to cover trans stories and TMW has distributed its own reporting style guides to various publications.

She told GSN that educating the press is key to changing the public's view of transgender people.

She added: 'The public takes a large part of its fear from what it sees in the press.

'So, if it sees trans people asked about their operative status and regularly having their former names given out, then it creates an aura of acceptability for people to do that and it isn’t acceptable.

'So by educating the press we are educating the general public about how to interact positively with trans people.'

The Leveson Inquiry was opened on November 14 in response to last July's phone hacking scandal, which saw the News of the World close as a result of the allegations.

Yesterday the openly bisexual deputy leader of the UK's Liberal Democrat Party was awarded £45,000 in damages from NOTW owners News Group Newspapers for phone hacking claims.

After the High Court hearing, Hughes said: 'The evidence in my case clearly demonstrates that the practice of hacking was widespread. It was criminal behaviour on an industrial scale.

'We must now make sure that nothing like this can ever happen again.'

Hughes, who was forced to come out by The Sun newspaper in 2005 after the tabloid made claims he had used a gay chat line, says he will co-operate fully with the Leveson Inquiry.

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