The killing of 16-year-old Brianna Ghey was, undoubtedly, a tragedy – but her death reflects a wider problem trans people face every day in the UK.
The teenager from Cheshire was openly trans and used the pronouns she and her, while her family have publicly express their grief over losing their “much loved daughter, granddaughter and baby sister”.
And yet, even in the very wake of her death, her gender identity instantly became caught up in the ongoing issues the trans community face, repeatedly, just for existing in the UK.
Here’s what you need to know.
The transgender teen was just 16 years old when she was stabbed to death on Saturday, February 11.
Members of the public called emergency services to Linear Park in Culcheth – a village in Warrington – at 3.13pm after Brianna’s body was found on a path, where she was pronounced dead.
Cheshire Police previously said there was no evidence to suggest Brianna was the victim of a hate crime.
But on Tuesday, the force issued a statement which said all lines of inquiry were being explored, “including whether this was a hate crime”.
A boy and a girl, both aged 15, were arrested on suspicion of Brianna’s murder and detectives have been granted an extension of 30 hours to further question the two suspects, police said.
On Wednesday, the police confirmed that both the boy and the girl were charged with murder.
The force had previously explained in a Twitter thread that officers remain in the Culcheth area “to provide reassurance and address any concerns that residents may have.”
It also called for people to get in touch if they have any information to help their investigation.
The officers continued: “Please continue to avoid speculation online – consider how any messages or those you share may affect family and friends of Brianna.”
They added: “At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that the circumstances surrounding Brianna’s death are hate related.”
But in a statement on Tuesday it said: “All lines of enquiry are being explored, including whether this was a hate crime.
“Please continue to avoid speculation online and be wary of sharing misinformation relating to this case.”
Why is her gender identity part of the coverage?
Her murder comes just as debates around trans issues have reached fever pitch, with the community as a whole facing growing backlash in the UK.
Only recently, the central UK government intervened to block the Scottish Government’s gender recognition law.
It was meant to allow trans people to identify and obtain a certificate to confirm their preferred gender, but Westminster used a devolution power for the first time in nearly 25 years to block it.
Then there was the debate around women-only spaces after convicted rapist Isla Bryson started to identify as a woman, having identified as a man while committing her crimes.
India Willoughby, the country’s first trans broadcaster, told BBC Question Time recently that the conversation around the very existence of trans people in the UK was “incredibly toxic and awful” for the community as a whole.
Willoughby explained: “To be sat at home and see people who aren’t actually trans discuss your life and paint you as a whole, en masse, as dangerous to society and unwanted, is just horrible.”
She added: “We have an audited trail of 1,000+ negative stories a month on 0.5% of the population.”
“It’s not even 0.5% – if you half that, because it’s only trans women that people are getting upset about, that’s 1,000 articles a month on just 0.2% of people,” Willoughby explained.
Brits were even surveyed on trans rights by YouGov in July 2022, and trans people spoke to HuffPost UK about their worries over securing gender-affirming HRT (hormone affirming therapy) amid a shortage in supplies last year.
With such a backdrop, there is speculation that Brianna’s murder was related to her gender identity.
Some media reports have claimed that, just five days before her death, Brianna allegedly posted a TikTok video claiming she had been excluded from school.
Her TikTok account has now been deleted.
Her friends have also allegedly claimed on social media that she was bullied and gang beaten at school, and had been for several years, just for “being trans”.
One friend told The Sun that those aware of the bullying had not intervened to stop it.
What’s happened with the media response?
There’s been substantial backlash over the way some large media organisations have covered the murder.
The Times’s original story – published on Sunday at 9pm – was altered less than two hours later to remove references to Ghey as a girl and instead call her by her deadname (the name a trans person used before deciding to transition), according to Trans Safety Network.
For context, deadnaming is banned from both Twitter and TikTok, as is misgendering.
Health Education England from the NHS explains that asking a trans person “what is your real name” or deadnaming them means you “feed a culture that constantly invalidates that person’s identity”.
As Ash Sarkar, contributing editor to Novara Media, tweeted: “A 16-year-old girl has been taken from her friends and family when her life was only just beginning. I cannot fathom the callousness involved in making the editorial decision to violate her dignity in death.”
The Times later changed the story again to remove the deadname and re-add the word “girl.”
The Labour MP for Warrington North, Charlotte Nichols, also said she would be writing to The Times and to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) to complain about the use of Brianna’s deadname.
BBC News and Sky News
Is this response anything new?
No, not according to trans campaigners.
Trans Safety Network tweeted: “Whatever the specific circumstances leading to Brianna Ghey’s death, we are currently living through a period of unprecedented moral repugnancy towards trans people, largely channelled through a compliant media which shows less and less respect for trans people’s lives and humanity.
They said even in death, the press have “chosen to compound this harm by publicly disrespecting Brianna’s identity until public outcry forced them to recover”.
“The death of Brianna Ghey is a failure by our society at the deepest level. It should not take a public show of grief to value the lives of trans children. Brianna’s life should have been valued enough not to be taken in the first place.”
According to Pink News, jane fae, chair of Trans Media Watch, said The Times was sinking to a “new low”.
“This is not the first time that Trans Media Watch has seen reporting done in such a way as to airbrush out any acknowledgement of an individual’s gender when it turns out that the victim was trans,” fae said.
Pointing out how open Brianna was about her gender, fae said: “There is no excuse for this cold, calculating manipulation of the news narrative.”
But, there has been overwhelming support for Brianna too
Although her death raises worries around trans safety, it’s important to note that there has also been an outpouring of support for her and grieving relatives.
Donations to her family have now exceeded £69,000 on GoFundMe in an effort to pay for funeral costs.
Brianna was a “much loved daughter, granddaughter and baby sister”, according to her family.
In a statement, they said: “She was a larger than life character who would leave a lasting impression on all that met her. Brianna was beautiful, witty and hilarious. Brianna was strong, fearless and one of a kind.
“The loss of her young life has left a massive hole in our family, and we know that the teachers and her friends who were involved in her life will feel the same.
“We would like to thank everyone for their kind words and support during this extremely difficult.”
They thanked the police for their support and witnesses for their assistance.
Headteacher at Birchwood Community High School, Emma Mills, said: “We are shocked and truly devastated to hear of the death of Brianna. This is understandably a very difficult and distressing time for many and we will do our utmost to support our pupils and wider school community.”
Help and support:
- The Gender Trust supports anyone affected by gender identity | 01527 894 838
- Mermaids offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences for young people with gender identity issues | 0208 1234819
- LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for LGBT people in Scotland. Text 07786 202 370
- Gires provides information for trans people, their families and professionals who care for them | 01372 801554
- Depend provides support, advice and information for anyone who knows, or is related to, a transsexual person in the UK