Homophobia, transphobia and the media

Posted on behalf of the NUJ Equality Council…

The forthcoming NUJ discussion of homophobia and the media has been expanded to cover transphobia: the expression of prejudice against transgender people. This is appropriate in the wake of Burchillgate, and more recently the tragic death of Lucy Meadows, who took her own life after featuring in a particularly obnoxious article by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail.

The NUJ has invited Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch to speak at the meeting on Tuesday 16 April. See the poster below for details. The discussion will take place at the NUJ headquarters at Headland House, 308-312 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8DP, beginning at 18:30.

NUJ: Homophobia, transphobia & the media

A personal reflection…

Julie Burchill’s bigotry aside, the case of reportedly popular primary school teacher Lucy Meadows I find especially distressing. As a child in the 1970s I witnessed at first hand the result of public and private prejudice against transsexual people, some of it quite subtle, and from unexpected quarters. As such I can understand what might have been going through Lucy’s mind after she was outed in the Daily Mail. Details of the case are few and far between, but personal reactions to such public exposure are common and predictable.

Despite strong support from colleagues, and many parents of children attending the school at which she taught, Lucy was the subject of a campaign by a newspaper rentagob and a minority of parents and others out to destroy her teaching career. The Daily Mail has since defended its star columnist, denouncing the 200,000-strong petition calling for Littlejohn’s sacking as an “organised Twitter campaign”. This is a bit rich coming as it does from a publisher that has no shame in using social media for similar ends. Live by the tweet, die by the tweet, one could say, but the Daily Mail will not die as the result of the death of one of its victims.

Directly attributing the death of Lucy Meadows to Richard Littlejohn’s writing is impossible. It is also beside the point, but that seems lost on “Elfin MacKenzie”, the anonymous tabloid journalist behind the “Insider Speak…” blog. In attempting to balance the supposedly hysterical reaction to Littlejohn’s article and Meadows’ death, this journo-blogger misrepresents the campaign against Littlejohn by employing the cheap rhetorical device of focusing on its most extreme and unrepresentative manifestations.

“Elfin MacKenzie” refers to previous suicide attempts by Meadows, implying that these would weaken the case against Littlejohn if they pre-dated the Daily Mail publicity. They would not, as evidence from the cases of other transsexual people would show if presented at the coroner’s inquest. Suicide attempts and self-harm are relatively common among transgender folk, and entirely understandable considering what they go through as a result of such a massive and traumatic life change.

Richard Littlejohn and the Daily Mail are currently under investigation by the Press Complaints Commission.