Note: This post also appears at Autostraddle.
“To the members of the press, I say shame. Shame on all of you.”
These were the words of Michael Singleton, the coroner assigned to the case of Lucy Meadows, the British school teacher who took her own life shortly after her gender transition made national gossip headlines in the UK earlier this year.
As I previously wrote, in late 2012, St. Mary Magdalen’s School informed Lucy’s students that Lucy, who had previously lived outwardly as a man, would return after the winter break as a woman. And although this story is something that has virtually no news value whatsoever for people who aren’t directly connected to Lucy’s classroom, for some reason a series of sensationalized stories on the subject appeared in the British press; this started with a story in the local Accrington Observer, featuring a scowling picture of the parents of one of Lucy’s students, and then spiraled up to the UK national press, including two articles that appeared in the Daily Mail tabloid.
The most over the top of these was an opinion column from shock jock commentator Richard Littlejohn titled “[S]he’s not only in the wrong body… [s]he’s in the wrong job” that implied Lucy should be fired or moved to another school. The article also included pre-transition pictures of Lucy with her then-wife; in clear breach of any kind of journalistic standards, these pictures were directly lifted from Facebook.
Lucy chose to end her life in March of this year.
While we can never be certain exactly what role the harassment she faced from the press played in that decision, it is clear that Lucy bitterly resented the press intrusion into her life, and it is clear that the behavior was entirely inappropriate. Lucy did file a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about the Littlejohn column; it took two months for the process to be resolved and in the end the Daily Mail offered nothing more than to simply take the story down from its website. That was about a week before Lucy’s death.
The coroner Singleton described the gesture as merely tokenistic, stating, “It seems to be that nothing has been learned from the Leveson inquiry.” It was during the Trans Media Watch presentation to the Leveson inquiry that it became widely public that the British press has gone so far as open up the lives of trans children for public ridicule and abuse.
It is heartening to see that Singleton was willing to come out and make such a strong statement to the UK press (and elsewhere, by extension) that the harassment and abuse of trans people’s lives and stories needs to end. Let us all remember Lucy’s story as we demand that the press starts to listen.
(Edit: It’s also worth noting that the Daily Mail has declined to publish anything on this story now that the role of the press has come into question. In other words, they were eager to inject themselves into the story when it was utterly unimportant to people who weren’t directly involved, but when it actually became a national issue– regarding the press involvement in people’s personal lives– that’s exactly the point at which the Daily Mail refuses to discuss the issue further.
Also check here for some right-wing dribble attempting to defend the press behavior in this case.)