A female teacher was found dead last month at her home in Accrington, Lancashire, north-west England. The police have said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding her death. Although the coroner is yet to release the cause of death Twitter and Facebook are awash with allegations of transphobic bullying from the mainstream press with the suggestion that led Lucy Meadows to take her own life.
Lucy made the brave decision to transition last year and was backed by the school at which she taught. St Mary Magdalen’s Church of England Primary head teacher Karen Hardmen said she fully supported Lucy’s decision. Parents and pupils were told in December that Mr Upton should be addressed as Miss Meadows after Christmas break.
A letter to parents read: ‘Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman. After the Christmas break, she will return to work as Miss Meadows.’
Soon after the Accrington Observer reported ‘male teacher will return to class as a woman’. This marked the start of Lucy’’ harassment by the press. A day after the Accrington Observer printed their article, renowned columnist Richard Littlejohn would dedicate this fortnightly column in national tabloid, The Daily Mail, to the matter.
Provocatively titled ‘He’s not only in the wrong body… he’s in the wrong job’ Littlejohn outlines why he thought she should have left her position at the school. He continues (using the incorrect pronouns) by claiming she shouldn’t be ‘entitled to project his personal problems on to impressionable young children… he is putting his own selfish needs ahead of the well-being of the children he has taught for the past few years’. Littlejohn’s article was swiftly removed after Lucy’s death but as I write this no statement has come from the editors or Littlejohn.
Littlejohn’s previous journalistic exploits look like they were meant for a Radio 4 satire Horsemeat! ‘Who the hell knows what goes into our food any more?’ ‘This is the HMRC [British tax office] hotline…”‰if you now need the Samaritans, press three’ and ‘Tough childhood? Get out of jail free’.
Dick is no stranger to homosexuality as Marina Hyde wonderfully put in The Guardian. ‘Richard has referred 42 times to gays, 16 times to lesbians, 15 to homosexuals, eight to bisexuals, twice to “homophobia” and six to being “homophobic” (note his scornful inverted commas), five times to cottaging, four to “gay sex in public toilets”, three to poofs, twice to lesbianism, and once each to buggery, dykery, and poovery. This amounts to 104 references in 90-odd columns – an impressive increase on his 2003 total of 82 mentions. There is, alas, no space for us to revisit the scientific study which found obsessive homophobes more responsive to gay porn. But Richard, we’re begging you: talk to someone.’
To use another title of a recent Littlejohn piece ‘Sack a columnist for being offensive? Perish the thought!’ Over 4,000 people have signed an online petition calling for a public apology from the Daily Mail and for the editor to sack Littlejohn. I, however am indifferent if he loses his job at the Mail or not; he’s a journalist and will find other avenues for his transphobic and homophobic rants. I want to do something more profound. I want to invite him to tea with the T community to educate him, answer any questions he may have and eliminate the fear he obviously has towards trans people.
Littlejohn is not the only British columnist writing transphobic tirades. Three months ago I wrote an article for Huffington about my disgust at Julie Burchill’s shoddy ‘don’t mess with my menopausal mates’ article. The Observer quickly retracted the article and an apology was printed.
What should we learn from these articles of hate that continue to be given national platforms? They are a bleak reminder that bullying and transphobia are alive and well in the media, even after the Leveson Inquiry into standards in the British press which particularly singled out trans people as having unfair treatment at the hands of mainstream journalists.
Sadly Lucy’s death is not the only story of its kind at the moment. A UK teenager was jailed for only three and a half years for killing gay teenager with autism by setting him on fire after scrawling homophobic insults on his body; another reminder that we have not yet reached equality. The Attorney General is now considering whether that sentence was unduly lenient and should be reviewed by the courts.
Sexual and gender equality is not putting Alan Carr or Graham Norton on the telly or where a LGBT storyline in a soap isn’t just a kiss that ends up on every front page. Sexual and gender equality is about living in a world where those who are LGBT are supported, visible and accepted socially, legally and politically.
Littlejohn in yet another recent transphobic article on gender-neutral toilets writes, ‘Until recently, the “trans” crowd has been lumped in with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) lobby. Now that gays and lesbians are firmly rooted in the mainstream, the trannies have regrouped.’
The lesbian, gay and bisexual communities will continue to stand together with our strong trans friends (despite their exclusion from one of the biggest equality charities) to ensure we are all treated with the same equality as any other human being. And we will continue to actively speak out against those who stand in the way.