Monday, 25 March 2013

Her Name Was Lucy Meadows

As I type, there's a vigil being held outside the offices of The Daily Mail, in memory of primary school teacher, Lucy Meadows.

Some of you may be wondering who Lucy Meadows was and what was so important about her life (and death) that a vigil would be held outside the offices of a national newspaper.  Let me explain...

Lucy Meadows was born Nathan Upton.  But Nathan never felt comfortable in his body and late last year, the school at which he'd worked released a newsletter, informing parents that "Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman."

Miss Meadows planned to return to work after the Christmas break, having been supported by her boss and colleagues at St Mary Magdalen's C of E school.  I don't think it's much of a stretch of the imagination to think that Lucy must have been relieved - if a little fearful of the reaction - that she was no longer living what she felt was a lie.  As she told a friend in an email: "All I've ever wanted was to be me."

But any hope of embracing her new life was shattered when someone leaked the school's newsletter to the press.  Lucy had hoped that she would be able to return to work with the minimum of fuss and to use her own experience to inform others: "I suppose the best way for me to do this would be to educate the people around me and the children at school – I am a teacher after all!" 

However, once the press had hold of the newsletter, any chance of retaining anonymity faded for Lucy Meadows.  Journalists and photographers began arriving not only at Miss Meadows' home, but at the school - often turning up early in the hope of catching her on her way to work.  Reporters were hungry for quotes from angry parents and - shockingly - it seems that those parents who wanted to make positive statements in favour of Lucy, were turned away by the press, who were far more interested in picking her story to the bone.  Nathan Upton's wedding photograph was published by the media without permission.  Lucy took to leaving via the back door of her house, in order to avoid media attention.  She'd work late, staying inside the school building until the crowd of reporters and photographers had gone, knowing that she was likely to have to go through the same routine the next day.

And then Richard Littlejohn waded into the situation.

For my friends from outside the UK, Richard Littlejohn is a columnist with The Daily Mail newspaper.  He's famous for controversial, right wing opinions and for use of vile, homophobic words such as "poof."

It should come as no surprise then, that Littlejohn's article on Lucy Meadows was not what you might call nice.  For a start, Littlejohn pointedly referred to her as a man, calling her "Mr Upton," in spite of claiming to have sympathy for those who felt trapped in the wrong body.  Surely, if that were truly the case, he would know how utterly offensive it would be to Lucy Meadows, to read a piece in which she was constantly referred to as a man?!

Littlejohn called Lucy - or rather "Nathan" - "selfish" and suggested it would be "easy" for her to simply leave her job and get a different one elsewhere.  In spite of the obvious bigotry on display here, has Littlejohn seen the current economic climate?!  Jobs aren't easy to come by.  So you not only come across as heartless here, Richard, but as rather bloody stupid.

Here's a charming excerpt from the Littlejohn piece:

"Nathan Upton is entitled to his gender reassignment surgery, but he isn't entitled to project his personal problems on to impressionable young children.
By insisting on returning to St Mary Magdalen's, he is putting his own selfish needs ahead of the well-being of the children he has taught for the past few years.
It would have been easy for him to disappear quietly at Christmas, have the operation and then return to work as 'Miss Meadows' at another school on the other side of town in September. No-one would have been any the wiser.
But if he cares so little for the sensibilities of the children he is paid to teach, he's not only trapped in the wrong body, he's in the wrong job."
Now, I believe in free speech.  And I'm aware that that belief has to encompass those whose views do not match my own.  Therefore, you could argue that Richard Littlejohn is just as entitled to publicly state that he thinks Lucy Meadows was selfish, as I am to publicly state that I think Richard Littlejohn is an offensive homophobe.
But the story didn't end with Littlejohn's article.  It ended last Tuesday, with the body of Lucy Meadows being found at her home in Lancashire.  She had committed suicide.
As Guardian media commentator, Roy Greenslade put it, "there is no clear link – indeed any link – between what Littlejohn wrote and the death of Lucy Meadows."  BUT - and it's an important "but" - can any of us truly imagine what it must have been like to have been Lucy Meadows in the months since last December?  To have to sneak out of the back door of your home, in order to avoid the mass of journalists and photographers, just waiting for their pound of flesh?  To open the papers to see pictures of a former version of yourself?  To read comments calling you selfish and deliberately referring to you as the wrong gender?  Can we really imagine, even for a second, that none of that could possibly have contributed to a promising young teacher's death?! 
A Daily Mail spokesperson said simply: "It is regrettable that this tragic death should now be the subject of an orchestrated Twitterstorm, fanned by individuals...with agendas to pursue."
And yet every tweet I've seen regarding Lucy Meadows and her tragic suicide, has been expressing deep sympathy for her plight, as well as anger that she was treated so appallingly by our national media.  Call that an "agenda," if you will.  I call it a completely understandable human reaction. Even in their obituary for Lucy Meadows, The Daily Mail referred to her as "Nathan Upton," using "he" in place of "she" throughout.  Even in death, the press couldn't show her the respect they had failed so utterly to display in life.
As Kate Green, the Labour shadow minister for women and equalities put it recently: "It is totally unacceptable to humiliate people or invade someone's privacy when there is absolutely no public interest in the story."
And really, I see very little way that anyone can argue against that view.  How was Lucy Meadows' life - a life that she had finally felt able to live freely, being true to herself - of any interest to the public at large?  She was a teacher, yes.  And you'll always get people thinking that children shouldn't be "exposed" to complex issues such as gender identity at a young age, yes.  But I work with children.  I know how easily most adapt to changes and I believe passionately that we should teach them about respect and equality for ALL from a young age.  So... Next argument?
The fact is, a person was hounded by the press for no reason besides the gender they identified as.   Regardless of whether or not that contributed to Lucy Meadows' suicide, it was still despicable behaviour from our press. How, in a country of more than 62million people, can we single out one person in such an offensive manner? 
Freedom of speech is one thing.  But subjecting one woman to a campaign of media harassment, simply because she stood up and asked to be respected for the person she was is another entirely.  So yes, I am angry.  I am furious with Richard Littlejohn.  I am disgusted with the journalists and photographers who tried to make a national story - and a judgemental one at that - from an innocent woman's life.  I am deeply saddened that that life is now over.  And I am fully prepared to speak out about it.
Call that an "agenda" if you like.  I call it compassion.  If only Lucy Meadows had been shown a little more of it from our press.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea of this having not read a newspaper or seen the news lately, but this is DISGUSTING! She, yes, SHE had EVERY right to return to work. My Fiance refuses to read the Daily Mail and 98% of the papers as they report crap to put it politely. If someone is trapped in the wrong body who the hell is anyone to say that is wrong?? It would have been good for the kids to have a teacher like that, then we might not have so many people who are afraid of people who are 'different'. My children will NEVER be one of those. They will be aware of everything and what it means to accept someone for who they really are. X


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