On 19th March, a Lancashire schoolteacher, Lucy Meadows was found dead in her home. She is believed to have committed suicide. The story just barely made the national papers and didn’t even get a mention on the national news. However, I believe her story is of national importance, particularly during a time when the regulation of the national press is near the top of the government’s agenda.
Lucy Meadows was a promising teacher, who was much-loved by her pupils and valued by her school. Approximately three months ago, the school announced in their newsletter that Ms Meadows, who was born male and had been teaching at the school in her male gender for many years, would be transitioning during the Christmas holidays and returning to school the following term in her new gender.
Predictably, one of the “outraged” parents decided to leak the newsletter to the gutter press, and this article in the Daily Mail resulted. The author, Richard Littlejohn, launched an heartless attack on Ms Meadows, using her former name, referring to her by the wrong pronouns continuously, and accusing her and the school of failing in their “duty of care” to their students.
As a result of this article, Ms Meadows was doorstepped by the press and received hate mail. In this article in The Guardian, shortly after her suicide, friends and trans activists claim that she complained of press harassment, having to leave her home by the back door in the early hours in order to be able to arrive at the school before the press got there.
It seems that the pressure and ridicule eventually became too much, at a time when she would have been in a fragile emotional state due to the stress of transitioning anyway, and she was allegedly driven to take her own life. Since then there have been widespread calls for Richard Littlejohn to be sacked, although curiously there has been no mention of the case in relation to the Leveson report and the high-profile statement which the Prime Minister made on the matter less than a week after her death.
The Daily Mail (and some commentators in other papers, including The Guardian) are claiming that there is “no way of proving” that Mr Littlejohn’s article directly lead to Ms Meadow’s death. Of course there isn’t, unless she is found to have written a suicide note directly implicating him, but that is not the point. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that his article will not have helped her to deal with the most stressful time in her life. Neither will the hate mail that his article automatically generated. Or the press crush outside her house. Or the fact that photos of her “before” and “after” were plastered all over the papers and on the internet.
We have made many strides in transsexual equality and acceptance in this country in the last ten years. Gender reassignment surgery is available through the NHS, trans people can legally change the gender on their birth certificates, they are protected from harassment at work and in the area of goods and services. The only place it seems they are not protected is in the press.
This story was not in the national interest. Neither Ms Meadows nor the pupils and staff at her school deserved to be hounded and vilified in this way. The children who she taught have been forced to learn about hatred, intolerance and now suicide. Where would Mr Littlejohn place that in his complaints about “duty of care”?
Here is a link to a petition set up on Change.org, calling for Richard Littlejohn to be fired. If you feel as strongly about this as I do, please sign it. So far, neither Mr Littlejohn or The Daily Mail will take any responsibility for what happened to Ms Meadows. Please put pressure on them to do so.