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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.)

Note: This is an archival post of a recent column at Autostraddle.

Last Monday, March 25, about three hundred people gathered outside of the offices of the Daily Mail in Kensington, London to hold a vigil in honor of Lucy Meadows, a British school teacher who was found dead at her home about a week earlier. The vigil was held at the Daily Mail headquarters in silent protest of how the UK tabloid (and other elements of the British press) had strewn details of a small-town teacher’s personal life across national headlines – likely playing a role in her apparent suicide. Many of those same members of the press hardly flinched as they continued disrespecting Meadows, even in reporting her death.

On December 19, 2012, the story appeared in the local Accrington Observer that Lucy Meadows, who had formerly lived as a man, would be returning to her teaching duties at St. Mary Magdalen’s School after Christmas break now living as a woman. The story incorrectly gendered Meadows as male throughout and featured a scowling picture of Wayne Cowie, a parent of one Meadow’s pupils, holding a copy of a letter to parents informing them of Meadows gender transition. Mr. Cowie was quoted speaking about his son, “He has had this teacher for three years. All of a sudden [she] is going to be coming to school after Christmas as a woman.” He added, “They are too young to be dealing with that.”

I would argue that children are perfectly capable of dealing with the issue of gender transition; my experience is that beyond perhaps vague curiosity, they usually don’t care very much (if at all). This naturally leads us to a more immediate question: why would anyone, unless perhaps they are directly connected to the school, care about this story? I have difficulty seeing how this story is worthy of any news coverage, even at the local level.

Of course, the press has every right to ask questions when it has some kind of (even broadly-defined) relation to the public interest. Usually that would mean asking questions of public figures or focusing on issues that affect a significant number of people. Lucy Meadows is not a public figure and her gender transition had a direct impact on very few people.

The manner in which the press was obviously bottom-feeding to dig up dirt in this case was a bit unreal. Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Please sign the petition here calling for Richard Littlejohn to be sacked from his column at the Daily Mail.

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A tragic story emerged today from Accrington, a small town in Lancanshire, England. This week, grade school pupils from St. Mary Magdalen’s Church of England Primary School were informed that their teacher Lucy Meadows had died.

As heartbreaking as that must be for the children, the fact that their teacher was almost certainly bullied to suicide by the British Press will probably only make things more difficult.

The background to the story is that Meadows, a trans woman, had previously been living and teaching as a man. Her students had been informed that following winter break, she would be returning to teach as a woman.

From my own experience, I can say this really isn’t that big of a deal. Children are smart, they’re adaptable, and they can work these things out.

Unfortunately, adults can sometimes be more complicated.

Of course, we all know from the recent Leveson inquiry as well as the Julie Burchill ordeal, the British Press has seemingly raised hateful transphobic and transmisogynistic journalism almost to the level of a twisted art form.

The comments from Richard Littlejohn in a Daily Mail column from Dec. 20, 2012 are a perfect example of this sick obsession that more than a few in the British Press seem to have with trans people.

For some inexplicable reason, Littlejohn seems to have believed that the gender transition of a small-town teacher in England should be UK National News headlines. So he gathered a few quotes from parents (probably taken at least somewhat out of context), prying into the business of some small town he’s likely never even visited before, just to shove this young woman’s personal life into the spotlight and ridicule her with public abuse.

And abuse he gave, including the fact that he consistently misguiders Meadows, refers to her by her previous male-typical name, and includes private photos– including a shot from her wedding for good measure.

Littlejohn begins the article stating he has no problems with NHS funding for gender confirmation surgery, apparently attempting to suggest he has no problem with trans people. He goes on to make the problems he has very clear; for a rough jist of the article (archived above):

Schoolteacher [birth name deleted], 32, says he always knew he was born into the wrong sex. Yet he married and fathered a child, now aged three. It was only fairly recently that he decided to go public with his inner turmoil.

The first indications came when he began growing his cropped hair and dyeing it purple. He started turning up for class wearing pink nail varnish and sparkly headbands.

His pupils at St Mary Magdalen’s Church of England Primary School in Accrington, Lancs, couldn’t help noticing. A crayon drawing of Mr Upton by a Year 6 pupil on the school’s website shows him with long hair swept back over his shoulders.

This week, the school’s 169 pupils, aged between seven and 11, were informed class-by-class that from now on, ‘Sir’ would be ‘Miss’.

So that’s all right, then. From now on, kiddies, Mr Upton will be known as Miss Lucy Meadows.

What are you staring at, Johnny? Move along, nothing to see here. Get on with your spelling test. Today’s word is ‘transitioning’.

But the real kicker of course comes from the following entirely ironic and hypocritical statements:

But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.

Why should they be forced to deal with the news that a male teacher they have always known as Mr Upton will henceforth be a woman called Miss Meadows?

So there you have it folks, Richard Littlejohn doesn’t have any problem with trans people… he’s just worried about the children.

Of course, what about the challenges of a young child who has to go through the experience of seeing a teacher that they admire being dragged through the mud in the National press? What about the moment when they learn that their teacher won’t be coming in to lead class after all, as she has likely committed suicide as a result of that experience? (The fact that the original article attacking Lucy Meadows has now been scrubbed from the Daily Mail site speaks volumes).

Of course it’s all about the children, right Richard Littlejohn? If that’s the case, then let’s see you do the best, most responsible thing for them that you could possibly do: publicly apologize and resign from your column at the Daily Mail immediately.

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