A trans activist has been left fearing for her safety after being accused of trying to block a fund-raising event for sick children.
Steph Holmes, who founded and runs the Chrysalis Trans Support Network in the north-west of England, believes the organization may have suffered lasting damage because of the claims.
On Saturday afternoon, the Telegraph reported Chrysalis had asked police to investigate a ‘Dames on the Run’ race, in which men were invited to run dressed as women to raise funds for Derian House children’s hospice.
The center in Lancashire, north-west England, helps children with life-shortening illness and their families, providing everything from respite care to bereavement support.
The story was taken up a few hours later by other publications, including the Mirror, which focused almost exclusively on Chrysalis organizer, Steph Holmes and said she thought the cross-dressing fun run was a hate crime.
Holmes told GSN before the story broke that neither she nor Chrysalis had raised this matter with the police.
She did not believe the proposed race was a hate crime. Instead she thought it was just insensitive and wanted to ask Derian House to do a different race theme.
It seems a Facebook conversation about the run, including Chrysalis members, was leaked to the press. And an individual who holds no formal position in Chrysalis referred the run to Lancashire Police.
But it is Holmes who has taken the blame.
She told GSN: ‘The response, as you can imagine, has been hostile in the extreme, and has left me feeling very down.’
One commenter wrote: ‘a trans charity that can’t distinguish between drag and trans really has no point having a voice at all’. Another added: ‘I suppose all we can do is to appeal to the board of Chrysalis to remove Steph Holmes.’ Yet another suggested that ‘the only people guilty of a hate crime’ were Chrysalis.
Holmes said: ‘I try to let such comments wash over me, but it is still distressing to hear such things, and hurtful that people think I am capable of taking this position.’
She is worried about the impact on Chrysalis.
‘Chrysalis is a trans support group, mostly funded out of my own pension, that runs events in Blackpool Preston and Blackburn. We offer a safe place for people to socialize, as well as help with coming out: not just transition, but all the paperwork involved as well.’
She advocates for trans people with family doctors, gender clinics, employment tribunals and local branches of the National Health Service. She provides presentations to schools, colleges and local businesses.
She added: ‘Over the years, we have helped hundreds of people. So I am very concerned that the claim that Chrysalis would have anything to do with banning a fun run will damage our reputation and result in fewer people getting support because some partner organizations seek to distance themselves.
‘That in turn could be very bad for the trans people concerned.’
A shaken Holmes had been planning to fly the Chrysalis banner at Manchester Pride – one of the UK’s biggest LGBTI events – this weekend. She is now considering if it would be safer for her not to do so.
The story was picked up and, it appears, first published by the Lancashire Evening Post (LEP).
The LEP is a syndication partner to the Ross Parry news agency, who provided the copy to national press, including the Telegraph and Mirror.
According to Ross Parry: ‘The LEP copy contained a full statement from Chrysalis which was extremely critical of the event.’
With the exception of Gay Star News, none of the media that ran with this story spoke directly to Holmes before doing so.
After speaking with Holmes and GSN correspondent, Jane Fae, the Mirror took the unusual step of taking their story down late on Sunday afternoon.
Jennie Kermode, chair of Trans Media Watch, commented: ‘This story has unfolded like a game of whispers when it should have been fact checked at every stage.’
Meanwhile, the fall-out is also damaging a completely unrelated trans charity.
Some people have confused Chrysalis with a transgender-support charity in Southampton, southern England. Their only crime – they happen to have the same name.
Hostile remarks naming and linking to that group have appeared on comment pages. And TV’s Channel Five’s Wright Stuff incorrectly displayed the banner of the Southampton Group and its registered charity number.