The blog of Monty Moncrieff
London Friend Chief Executive
25th March 2013: Lucy Meadows, Steven Simpson and anti-LGBT opinions
I haven’t blogged for a while but this week there have been a few things on my mind: the death of a transwoman, the sentence given for a homophobic killing, and anti-gay adverts on London buses. They all have a connection through the continued prejudice shown towards LGB & T people.
Firstly the death of trans teacher Lucy Meadows. This story has rightly shocked and angered a much broader section of society than just our own communities. Lucy was a teacher who, with the express support of her school, began her full-time social role transition in January. Her “story” – deemed by some to be in the public interest – was picked up first by local newspapers and the nationally in the Daily Mail., and The Sun, both sensationalising her identity. The Mail published a further comment piece (since removed from the website) by columnist Richard Littlejohn which ridiculed her and the effect her transition, Littlejohn projected, would have on her pupils. Last week Lucy was found dead, presumed to have taken her own life.
Of course, we need to apply caution here; we don’t know the full circumstance of Lucy’s death, nor can we draw a definite link to the media coverage. However her emails passed onto and published in The Guardian document intrusion, if not harassment, by the media; desperate attempts to get a photograph of her on her way to or from work; photos reproduced without permission from social media; supportive comments from parents unpublished; and ultimately a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission which led to intervention on her behalf. Is this really what the public are interested in?
Lucy’s death comes as campaign group Trans Media Watch are upping the ante on the portrayal of trans people in the media and documenting the harms to health and well-being caused by relentless coverage of transition stories. I invited them to speak at the recent Trans Health Matters conference I chaired on March 12th (the programme is available here, and a post-conference report will follow) and their input was one of the most rousing of the day. It follows excellent written and oral submissions by the group to the Leveson Inquiry which catalogue case after insensitive case of press intrusion. Also at the conference we heard from Jay McNeil and Lee Gale, two of the people who worked on last year’s Trans Mental Health Study. The research paints a grim picture of the effects of the prejudice that press coverage like this perpetuates for those targeted.
It saddens me to see people’s lives being paraded like this, as if the Victorian freak show never rolled back out of town. These aren’t figures of ridicule, these are people who merely wish to get on with their lives, as Lucy was doing here with the support of her employer. Surely gender reassignment isn’t still the curiosity it may once have been? If trans people can win Big Brother (not once, but twice), be regular characters in soaps and even triumph in the Eurovision Song Contest is there any genuine interest to the public that a teacher, a nurse, a mechanic, a journalist, a politician, an author, a surgeon or whatever was once assigned a different sex?
I sincerely hope that the work of Trans Media Watch and other activists can challenge, educate and ultimately change the approach of individual reporters and their editors to end this unnecessary, inaccurate and harmful portrayal of trans lives. They have my full support.
Last week also saw the conviction and sentencing of a man for the manslaughter of a gay teenager Steven Simpson at his 18th birthday party. Steven was taunted by a gatecrasher who wrote ridiculing homophobic messages on his body, doused him in tanning oil and setting him on fire. Although his attacker pleaded guilty to manslaughter his defence claimed it was a “prank gone wrong”.
I’m usually one to give somebody the benefit of the doubt, and I can understand how events can sometimes go tragically wrong, but it’s the nature of the taunts that is so disturbing here. What makes it permissible to claim such bullying is just high jinks? It’s yet another example of how LGB & T people remain supposed “fair game” for singling out solely because of our sexual and gender identities.
Just like the aims of Trans Media Watch we need to challenge the social construction of LGB & T people. We can’t allow portrayals of identity which perpetuate stereotyping, permit harassment or attack, and lead to the poor self-image of many individual LGB & T people. I’m pleased today to see an appeal against the leniency of the sentence.
Some bus advertising decisions are right – get over it!
Which leads to my final comment on the outcome of the banning of anti-gay adverts by Transport for London (TfL). Last week, in some good news for LGB & T people, a High Court judge that TfL had not acted unlawfully in banning the adverts commissioned by the Core Issues Trust that implied “ex-gay” therapies were effective. Such therapies have been denounced by many professional bodies. The High Court ruled that such adverts were likely not only to cause offence but to increase the risk of prejudice and homophobic attacks. It’s this latter point that concerns me most, and continues to link the themes of this blog post.
Peter Tatchell has argued that the ban was not the right response, and that free speech should prevail, challenging discrimination not banning it. I agree with his defence of free speech and engagement, but for me his view misses the point. TfL’s decision not to run the ads does not prohibit the Core Issues Trust from holding their views, nor exclude an invitation to enter discourse; it’s the decision of a company not to allow its advertising space to be used (literally) as a vehicle for conveying the group’s views. But whatever the ethics of the ban, the message persists that being gay is, in the eyes of the Core Issues Trust and many others, something undesirable and to seek help to avoid. Once again it’s perpetuating the notion that our identities are of little value, and I’m happy this wasn’t given further voice.
London Friend works to promote the health and well-being of LGB & T people, and those exploring or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity. We provide services to support LGB & T people and to help them be more confident and content with their identity. Please see our Get Support section for more information on our services.