Her name was Lucy: Press coverage of a teacher’s death

The death of transgender teacher Lucy Meadows, who had her story revealed by the tabloid press, has provoked more bad coverage and again raised questions about press ethics

Her name was Lucy: Press coverage of a teacher’s death

When confronted with Trans Media Watch’s evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into standards in the British press, Dominic Mohan (the editor of the Sun) said on oath to the inquiry: ‘I think we have improved our reporting in these matters ... we’ve raised our game in terms of transgender reporting.’

When lawyer Robert Jay QC directly asked him whether the Sun would change its policy and stop running any similar exposes in the future, Mohan’s reply was: ‘I’m making attempts to do that, yes, in the news pages, yes.’ Yet his response to a follow-up question clearly reveals what Mohan thinks of trans people: ‘That main image, I believe, is actually a transsexual who was the star of a TV series that was basically based around deceiving a number of male contestants into thinking that he – that she was a – that she hadn't been born a man.’

Mohan’s struggle to find the right words reveals his view, as brought out the next day in the Trans Media Watch evidence, that trans people are fundamentally frauds. This view appears to be unamended since Mohan appeared at the inquiry in February last year.

However it happened, Tuesday’s tragic death of Lucy Meadows was initially reported in the Sun as follows: ‘A MALE primary school teacher is believed to have killed himself just four months after angering parents by returning to class as a woman.’

The article repeatedly referred to Lucy by her former name, and consistently referenced ‘him’. Trans as fraud? Not quite who she said she was? Insiduous, isn’t it.

I understand an angry phone call between a journalist and the Sun’s News Editor yesterday evening (21 March) resulted in a few changes, but the core of the article remains much the same. Hold on – ‘we’ve raised our game in terms of transgender reporting’? Hmmm.

Lest you think I’m singling out the Sun for unnecessary exposure in the spotlight, let’s turn to the Daily Mail’s coverage.

Richard Littlejohn, a shock-jock in print, wrote a piece for the Daily Mail, published on 20 December, which was titled ‘He’s not only in the wrong body ... he’s in the wrong job’. The article was based on the incorrect premise that children would not be able to cope with a transitioning teacher, and therefore Lucy should stop teaching and/or move.

Basically Littlejohn proposed that the school, which had been and still is thoroughly supportive, breach Britain’s Equality Act.

For what it’s worth, explaining a teacher’s death to pupils is far harder. When I was at school, first my deputy head died very suddenly, and within a year my headmaster had killed himself. The shockwaves reverberated around the school for months.

The Daily Mail today? ‘The school was supporting him throughout his “transition”.’ This is despite ambulance and police reports and the school, all of whom they quote, consistently referencing Lucy as female. It’s deliberate mis-gendering. Transition is something that doesn’t really exist, hence the quote marks. Again, trans as fraud.

The Sun is also going to town today on two prisoners who have requested treatment for gender dysphoria. The cost is stated in the piece as approaching £100,000 ($150,000 €115,000) – the implication being, this is money we can ill afford from a cash-strapped prison service.

Let’s ignore the fact that medicine and the law has recognized gender dysphoria as a medical condition that needs treatment for at least 15 years – the implication again is that they’re deviant ‘lags’ and therefore undeserving of indulging an apparent lifestyle choice. Apart from that, the costs look as though they’re being deliberately inflated, again. Trans as undeserving deviant.

Being trans is not a choice. I’ve said it before and I know I will say it again: most trans people try for years not to be trans – and fail. Sometimes their failure is tragic.

On Wednesday the Press Complaints Commission, in rejecting complaints about Julie Burchill’s article, claimed that articles can be offensive and discriminatory as long as they don’t refer to an individual. One in five trans people have reported they have received verbal abuse that they can directly link to media coverage of trans issues. Individuals are associated with press articles even if they haven’t appeared in them. Discrimination against a group results in discrimination and abuse towards individuals. Burchill’s piece would not have been victimless.

If the subject of a press article has any social media presence at all, then that can also be a cause of huge distress. Freedom of speech apparently means the freedom to offend, the freedom to insult, the freedom to wound with words. Just because you have a freedom doesn’t mean you need to use it all the time. Sometimes wouldn’t it be better to exercise self-restraint?

The freedom of the press is there to hold power to account, not to repeatedly monster and victimize vulnerable, innocent people, exploiting them and their stories which are then warped for commercial gain.

The press may complain they’ve been unfairly singled out as the perpetrators of this sad event with no real evidence. It’s true that we don’t know how Lucy died or, if she did commit suicide, what her motives were. But it’s also true national exposure along the lines I’ve outlined at an emotionally turbulent time will damage you. Isn’t it?

David Allen Green said on BBC Radio 4 last night that regulation isn’t necessarily the issue here – it’s a culture change that’s needed. I agree.


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