In March this year Lucy Meadows took her own life. She was a primary school teacher, much liked by her colleagues, pupils and parents. She was also born a man.
The press first became interested in Ms Meadows as a result of a newsletter from the school she worked at informing parents of her decision to undergo gender-reassignment surgery being made public. It was a standard school Christmas newsletter, except at the bottom it said "Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman". Where some people saw a charming example of a school trying to deal with an unusual situation in a compassionate and tactful way, the Daily Mail and others in the press saw something shameful and unacceptable.
Projecting their prejudices onto this story, and seeking information on Lucy in an intrusive and what must have been an oppressive manner, the papers put an enormous amount of pressure on a vulnerable individual. We now know that the coroner believes the media did play a significant role in the decision of Ms Meadows to take her own life.
Richard Littlejohn wrote, in a notably hurtful article (Littlejohn intentionally says 'he' all the way through), that Lucy was "not only in the wrong body, but in the wrong job" and cites a concerned parent who was worried about explaining what had happened to their child.
I believe that the consideration of a child's welfare should be based on happiness and quality of education. Parents I spoke to were concerned that they had lost a great teacher; that the majority of parents allowed their child to attend Ms Meadows funeral service is testament to her popularity. It should have been a case of live and let live that a teacher was finally getting a lifelong personal issue resolved with the support of her employer. Not all employers would be so understanding.
What transgender people deserve is accurate reporting, and to be treated with the respect that every human being wishes to feel. Denigrating innocent people serves little purpose but potentially destroys their lives and impacts on family and friends.
The Daily Mail and Richard Littlejohn should know better than to peddle myths and attempt to justify bullying a vulnerable person who is a bit different. Let's not pretend there was any real concern for the children at the school behind this article - probably why they so quickly removed it from their website. There was no principle, just prejudice.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission estimated that in 2009 there are between 65,000 and 300,000 transgender people in the UK, and everyone, including politicians, need to challenge the unthinking attitudes that often pervade about transgender people, and that begins by at least talking about them. In a small way, this could move the debate forward, put it on the political landscape and reframe the debate into something more positive.
Along with my colleague Kerry McCarthy, the Bristol East MP, I attended a vigil outside the offices of the Daily Mail, where a large group of transgender people and supporters of the cause gathered to state that they were no longer afraid and were not going to put up with negative portrayal and media bullying any longer. The burden of social exclusion should not be on innocent people just trying to live their lives and in the case of Lucy Meadows, trying to do the best by her pupils.
I am still left without any good reason explaining what my constituent did to deserve this level of intrusion into her life. The criticism of her was over-the-top moralising which didn't even attempt to address in detail any of the things it claimed to be concerned about.
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