The media’s role in the death of Lucy Meadows

Lucy Meadows, a transsexual woman formerly called Nathan Upton, committed suicide earlier this month, the victim of a media witch-hunt. In December, Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn published an attack on her that aimed to hound her out of her job as a primary school teacher.

Marko Attila Hoare is a British historian who also writes about current affairs

Lucy Meadows, a transsexual woman formerly called Nathan Upton, is believed to have committed suicide earlier this month, following a media witch-hunt.

In December, Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn published an attack on her that aimed to hound her out of her job as a primary school teacher.

He claimed that having a woman teacher they had formerly known as a man would have a ‘devastating effect’ on Meadows’s pupils; apparently, she was trying to ‘project his personal problems on to impressionable young children’, while Meadows’s school, which supported her, was seeking to ‘elevate its “commitment to diversity and equality” above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents.’

Littlejohn concluded that if Meadows ‘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’.

The ensuing media frenzy involved personal pictures of Meadows being published in the national press, and paparazzi camping outside her home, forcing her to leave for work early and return late to avoid them.

She complained to the Press Complaints Commission about the Littlejohn piece, but ultimately found the harassment unbearable.

This scandal follows another mainstream media assault on trans people earlier this year, when columnist, Julie Burchill, published a transphobic rant in The Observer, involving phrases such as ‘a bunch of dicks in chick’s [sic] clothing’ and  ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’.

Apparently, Britain’s leading quality liberal Sunday paper considered such bigotry acceptable if the targeted minority was defenceless enough and if its circulation could be sufficiently boosted by the predictable storm.

However, The Observer underestimated the degree of its readers’ disgust that followed, which led it to remove the article from its website and publish an apology. But with wearying predictability, a horde of right-wing Daily Telegraph and Spectator columnists – including Toby Young, William Henderson, Allison Pearson and Rod Liddle – joined by a handful of liberals, waded in to defend Burchill on ‘free speech’ grounds and to condemn The Observer’s ‘censorship’.

There are reasons for suspecting that Burchill’s defenders were not really motivated by concern for ‘freedom of speech’. Her article remained freely available and republished on other places on the internet, including the Daily Telegraph’s own website; critics weren’t suggesting that the state should ban it, merely that the Guardian shouldn’t host it, so the talk of ‘censorship’ was a straw man.

Furthermore, some of them couldn’t resist chipping in with transphobic snipes of their own – Liddle referred to ‘trannies’ and ‘quasi-women’; Pearson humorously suggested transsexual people should ‘man up !’ and accept the insults; Tom Peck, in the Independent, wrote: ‘You’d think the trannies could take it really, their shoulders are broad enough’.

Burchill’s defenders were notable by their silence when a similar ‘free speech’ issue manifested itself immediately after.

Remarks made by Liberal Democrat MP David Ward in the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day, and a cartoon by Gerald Scarfe of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, that was also considered by some (wrongly but understandably) to be anti-Semitic, appeared on the day itself in the Sunday Times.

Ward was threatened with losing his LibDem whip, while Rupert Murdoch personally apologized to Netanyahu for the Scarfe cartoon.

The supposed ‘censorship’ of Ward and Scarfe was comparable to the ‘censorship’ of Burchill; it involved disassociation from, not actual suppression of the speech in question. Yet there was no comparable right-wing and libertarian storm in defence of Ward’s or Scarfe’s ‘free speech’.

One suspects that many columnists will only defend the ‘right to offend’ when it is directed against a target which they despise, such as transsexual people, but not when directed against one they like, such as the State of Israel or the Cenotaph (which young Charlie Gilmour was actually sent to prison for swinging from during a demonstration against tuition fees, on which occasion, far from defending his ‘right to offend’, Burchill led the media attack on him).

Hate speech is not just ‘causing offense’; its consequence is not only that people reading it will be upset. Hate speech is about intimidating and disempowering its targets; about making prejudice, discrimination, harassment, even violent assaults on them acceptable.

As the case of Lucy Meadows has brutally demonstrated, the results can be fatal.

82 Responses to “The media’s role in the death of Lucy Meadows”

  1. Mick

    Didn’t say it was, just run by and commented on by people who can support Labour.

    Irony really, considering how LFF complained that LABOUR HAS ALLOWED ITSELF TO BE CAST AS THE ENEMY OF FREEDOM when complaining about the totalitarian image of Milliband’s team.

  2. Mick

    Didn’t say it was, just run by and commented on by people who can support Labour.

    Irony really, considering how LFF complained that LABOUR HAS ALLOWED ITSELF TO BE CAST AS THE ENEMY OF FREEDOM when complaining about the totalitarian image of Milliband’s team.

  3. Mick

    Didn’t say it was, just run by and commented on by people who can support Labour.

    Irony really, considering how LFF complained that LABOUR HAS ALLOWED ITSELF TO BE CAST AS THE ENEMY OF FREEDOM when complaining about the totalitarian image of Milliband’s team.

  4. Mick

    Didn’t say it was, just run by and commented on by people who can support Labour.

    Irony really, considering how LFF complained that LABOUR HAS ALLOWED ITSELF TO BE CAST AS THE ENEMY OF FREEDOM when complaining about the totalitarian image of Milliband’s team.

  5. Ash

    There’s a time and a place to bleat about your ‘freedom of speech’, Mick, and I’d suggest that a comments thread on an article about a woman hounded to her death by people who were merely exercising their right to say bigoted, hateful things about her is not it.

  6. Ash

    The point I’m trying to make is that the same argument could have been made not so long ago about gay people, or black people, or Hindus, or any other group who would have seemed ‘weird’ at that time. But the children who were sheltered from all those ‘weirdos’ didn’t grow up ‘better equipped mentally’ to face them; they grew up racist, homophobic and generally suspicious and intolerant of anyone different from themselves. The people who are best able to ‘face the weirdos’ as adults are precisely the people for whom diversity was a simple fact of life from childhood onwards.

    It’s neither possible nor desirable to prevent children from ever getting upset or confused as they learn about the world. The world is an upsetting and confusing place at times, especially when it’s all new to you – but you still have to grow up and live in it.

    Is it any more upsetting and confusing, as a young child, to deal with the fact that your teacher has transitioned to live as a woman than it is to deal – for instance – with the fact that the ham in your sandwiches is made from dead pigs? I don’t see how. Yet I don’t hear any right-wingers demanding that children be raised veggie so as not to have to face these horrors before they’re ‘older and better equipped mentally’. Why, it’s almost as if all this stuff about protecting our children is a smokescreen for their own bigotry.

  7. SadButMadLad

    A lot of comment about how caused “Lucy Meadows” death without actually knowing what was the cause. Could it be the loss of his wife. Could it be bullying from pupils. Could it be neighbours and strangers. Could it be the loss of friends. It could be anything.

    If you look at the facts and not get carried away by emotion you will see that a good proportion of transgenders commit suicide. Not surprising really when they are going through some really strong emotional and mental issues.

    As always, the left are using the sad case of an individual for their own purposes, ignoring all the extra pain the family of the individual will be feeling from all the extra publicity/

  8. Josephine Shaw

    Have you ever considered that this individual, who you persist i referring to in the male pronoun, actually IS a woman? Who is not (necessarily) gay (sexual identity has nothing to do with gender identity – I don’t know any people who express their homosexuality by thinking of themselves in the other gender), who is not in it for some sort of sexual thrill, who doesn’t have any sort of dysmorphia…but simply IS who she says she is? We are the product of our inner knowledge, and our gender identity is something that is a fundamental part of our intrinsic selves. When this doesn’t accord with the way our bodies develop, society has a choice – to honour the right of the individual to own their own identity, or to insist, on the basis of something that they can observe, that this person has no right to do this. Society is all about taking the power away from trans people.

    I cannot see how transsexual people are not similar to anorexics. I don’t know any anorexics so I won’t try and explain their experience, but the challenge many trans people have is that society tries really hard not give us our birthright (because it challenges preconceptions – often based on medical misunderstanding) to be who we know ourselves to be. Up to and including killing us – directly, or indirectly through suicide (for which the statistics are way higher than you would ever believe).

  9. Jon Danzig

    Why do you describe Miss Meadows as a ‘mental car crash’? She was a popular teacher, a respected member of staff, with the support of the children, parents, teachers, head teacher and governors. Had this not been the case, then possibly I could understand media interest. But since there wasn’t a problem locally, it seems that the national press went ahead and created one anyway. In my view, this was the worst kind of journalsm. My blog explains in more detail. http://goo.gl/xdJBd

  10. Mick

    ‘…they grew up racist, homophobic and generally suspicious and intolerant of anyone different from themselves.’

    Can the Left go five minutes without slagging people off? Sticks and stones, remember. Plus, there’s a difference between being strange and being different, even if some people may not tell the difference.

    And that means the Left. They can now call for young kids to even be taught gay sex in primary schools, not to mention wanting to wreck the age of innocence further by upsetting them with all this tranny stuff.

    That is why kids knowing some people are from ethnic minorities is a fact of life at any age, whilst you can’t expect them to compute strange men thinking they’re women and have them take it as a man of the world would.

  11. Mick

    I did see your blog. And I still stand by what I said.

    Nobody can say there’s no issue in somebody who drags up in class and declares they want to be someone else by next term. And when you’re around kids, you have to tread carefully. Crumbs, that dedicated headmaster in the Reading area was recently sacked for snapping his pupils with an ‘unauthorised’ camera, so you would think ‘Meadows’ would gain some attention him/herself.

    Some kids in the class were confused and one was puterbed, as we know from the media. That comes above what people said about the man based on past record.

  12. Jon Danzig

    Even if you feel this was an issue worthy of media attention, can you really claim that the type of villifying of Lucy Meadows in the article by Richard Littlejohn was justified or helpful? If the subject had to be in the media at all, wouldn’t it have been better for it to have been be reported more responsibly and with maturity?

  13. Mick

    Another nice smear. Kids are insensitive. It’s not too far back
    to remember life in the playground myself.

    And you try telling that to people who find kids don’t stop causing a nuisance in your street until you make visiting their parents too much hassle for them to ignore things.

  14. Mick

    And out it all comes. Never mind the cool air of indifference to views they don’t agree with, I enjoy a sit down out the rain here to warm up in front of a blazing hot leftist.

  15. Mick

    Littlejohn was merely stating his opinion and we all know it’s hardly his brief to be anything but straight talking. As leftists have told me about columnists or TV shows I don’t like, if you’re not interested then don’t look.

    And considering Newsweek recently had articles like IS YOUR BABY RACIST and left wing jargon now twisting terms like ‘peadophobia’ (Google it), I can hardly expect cutting edge PC people to look soberly at anything.

  16. Mick

    …Another term to Google for is PEDOPHOBIA FEAR OF PEDOPHILES.

    Do they never stop?

  17. Ash

    ‘Out it all comes’ is right. You haven’t just let the mask slip, you’ve taken it off and flat-out admitted that you’re spewing hate about transsexual people in general, and a dead primary school teacher in particular, just to wind up lefties for your own amusement. Nice.

  18. Ash

    Huh? Slagging people off? I’m not the one attacking people as ‘weirdos’. I’m just suggesting that (for instance) my grandparents grew up with racist and homophobic attitudes partly because they grew up in an environment in which Asian and gay people appeared strange and alien; while my children are growing up without those attitudes partly because they interact with Asian and gay people every day at school. That’s right, isn’t it?

    As for the difference between being ‘strange’ and being ‘different’: I hesitate to make this simple point yet again, but the history of increasing tolerance has been the history of recognising that people who once appeared ‘strange’, alien, dangerous, are in fact just ‘different’. It happened with gay people, with black people, with Native Americans – with the Irish, FFS. And it will happen with transsexual people if we let it.

    I challenge you to make any kind of serious case that transsexualism is any harder for a child to compute than dozens of other things we expect them to accept as facts of life as they grow up – that meat comes from animals, that mummy has a baby in her tummy, that their pet hamster has died, that they’ll be grown-ups one day.

    Of course, if you don’t fancy engaging in any kind of argument, you could try to wind me up by hurling abuse at recently deceased members of minority groups. That’s always fun.

  19. Veraim

    Precisely the reasons the SWP think RAPE is an internal matter, and not a criminal matter.. with the obvious result that ALL SWP members are now either rapists or rape supporters. I turn it back on you. What is “different” about you, and would you like to be publicly humiliated, hounded, and then have to put up with bigoted scumbags making comments about “protect the children from this monster” crap.. “Left”?.. bollocks.. “intersectionality”.. only if it’s white straight middle class.. What the hell gives you any right to moralise on other peoples gender? prick!

  20. Mick

    Oooo, the mask! Where would anyone who doesn’t agree with left-wingers be without their masks? sticks and stones, eh.

    I never said I took anything from the dead teacher. To be clear, my reaction was remembering this person from the paper, reading how leftists say the person was ‘hounded to death’ by a few columnists saying ‘Phew, what a weirdo’ and then leaving a comment or two to gain insight into the opposite view of the issue.

    And it seems to be very red in the face.

  21. Mick

    You’re right, there has been a history of people feeling hostile and alienated when faced with those from different races or of different creeds. And it can happen with any people, anywhere and it’s rarely fixed by calling names or applying labels. (I never expected any views to change by revealing this person to have been an oddball.)

    But as we recap, trans-sexual people are the way they are because they’re not normal rather than because their skin’s a bit dark. That’s not to say I hate them, unless they’re particularly annoying individually, just that you keep this kind of thing away from kids.

    And yes, kids can be affected. One kid in the article had nightmares and, on a wider level, kids can even be freaked out even when others of their age do it. Google STUDENTS WHO REFUSE TO AFFIRM TRANSGENDER STUDENTS FACE PUNISHMENT.

    So you can’t guarantee all kids will be mature. Because they’re kids. And you keep people with their own complex issues out of the way. (And they don’t let other supposedly harmless weirdos work in schools after all.)

  22. Mick

    Aah, the names. Sticks and stones my break a Red’s bones!

    I’m not moralising on the gender, if you can call it that, except when it’s put in front of kids. And kids may seem to take it in their stride but they still won’t understand properly, which can only upset the kind of person so mixed up that they drag up in class and feel they’re being ‘hounded’ by a few columnists commenting on the issues.

    And it never crossed my mind to think in terms of class.

  23. Ash

    What a lovely bit of spin. Let’s pick some of this apart.

    “Oooo, the mask! Where would anyone who doesn’t agree with left-wingers be without their masks?”

    It has nothing to do with being left-wing or right-wing. It has to do with pretending to be a reasonable individual interested in having a conversation, rather than a wind-up merchant who simply “enjoy[s]… warm[ing] up in front of a blazing hot leftist”. A troll, in other words. Now, trolling political opponents by expressing ridiculous opinions etc. is one thing; but trolling them by hurling abuse at a dead primary school teacher? You’ll excuse me if I think that’s a teensy bit ‘off’.

    “I never said I took anything from the dead teacher.”

    No idea what you’re talking about here. I never said you ‘took anything’ from her either. What you did was to call her all sorts of names and imply that she wasn’t a fit person to be around children.

    “leftists say the person was ‘hounded to death’ by a few columnists saying ‘Phew, what a weirdo'”

    What a ridiculous attempt to downplay the all the negative media attention. When’s the last time you opened a national newspaper to find columnists dragging your name through the mud and demanding you be sacked and kept away from children? When’s the last time you had to plan your day around dodging journalists and photographers?

    “To be clear, my reaction was remembering this person from the paper, reading how leftists say the person was ‘hounded to death’ by a few columnists saying ‘Phew, what a weirdo’ and then leaving a comment or two to gain insight into the opposite view of the issue.”

    Yes, all you did was leave an innocent comment or two banging on about this teacher being a weirdo, a tranny, a gender-bender, an oddball, a man in drag etc., just to help you gain insight into why leftists think anti-trans prejudice might have played some role in her death. How admirable.

  24. Ash

    Funnily enough, you’re continuing to completely ignore the obvious truth that we recognise the need for children to address all sorts of complex and potentially upsetting or confusing issues as they grow up – birth, death, love, illness, old age, disability, divorce, puberty, etc. etc. You can’t give a reason why transsexualism should be any different because there *is* no reason.

  25. Mick

    Well let’s pick apart the pickings. You’re the one who mentioned winding up leftists. On a leftist board proud of its leftism. And I don’t mind being called a troll, or any name. Though I would appreciate if you calmed down.

    And you said I was ‘spewing hate about transsexual people in general, and a dead primary school teacher in particular, just to wind up lefties for your own amusement.’ Sounds very much like saying I was getting something from this person’s death to me.

    Though suppose we can take back talk of oddballs and weirdos in exchange for a more neutral observation then. Say I was peculiar enough to do what this guy did to try and keep his mind in some kind of check. I’d realise I was too -off-kilter to do anything as delicate as be a teacher. I know I would. Goes without saying the papers would notice.

    And after all, people like politicians have to reign over much less.

  26. Mick

    …Have to RESIGN over much less! God, my typing makes me look weird as well.

  27. Mick

    I’ve said it a couple of times, or more, only you ignore it in order to say I ignore the ignored stuff. (Phew, how do leftists manage to logic-chop for a living?!)

    And it’s no good to say as kids take in so much stuff already that you may as well chuck trannies into the mix as well. Nothing can be delayed ’til later in PC land. That’s why the most ‘progressive’ demand kids learn about puberty way before they get any pubes. (Or the ability to properly read, write and add up for that matter.)

    And if individual kids are faced with seamy stuff earlier? Well, take things on a case-by-case basis.

    They’re just kids. One thing at a time.

  28. Ash

    “Sounds very much like saying I was getting something from this person’s death to me.”

    You were. You got to ‘enjoy a sit down out the rain here to warm up in front of a blazing hot leftist’. Remember? And that’s where I got the crazy idea that you like winding people up.

    “Though suppose we can take back talk of oddballs and weirdos in exchange for a more neutral observation then. Say I was peculiar enough…”

    …not sure how ‘peculiar’ is an improvement over ‘weird’, but OK…

    ” to do what this guy did to try and keep his mind in some kind of check. I’d realise I was too -off-kilter to do anything as delicate as be a teacher.”

    There’s been no suggestion that she was incapable of doing her job. The idea that she must have been too ‘off-kilter’ to teach is based on nothing more than your own prejudiced belief that transsexuals must all be unhinged.

  29. Reply

    Blimey, I’ve been deleted and blocked. Guess who.

  30. Reply

    I got to enjoy sitting down in front of a blazing hot Ash. Figures. Which means I’m not the sort to get wound up rather than my enjoying the spectacle of a deceased something-or-other, as seems suggested.

    And if we re-Google BASIC ISSUES IN TRANSGENDER MENTAL HEALTH, we’ll find they can have plenty of issues which set them apart from normal blacks or Sikhs. And whether or not this person was a good teacher, the other issues can have an impact on kids as well, as we already put our fingers on, to use an unfortunate phrase. And the poor sod was off-kilter enough to end his own life when the papers passed comment.

  31. Reply

    I think my reply’s been wiped again. And it’s harder to have freedom of speech. So I’ll re-say sticks and stones will break my bones Left.

    And as I’ve always said, do what you like in the adult world, just keep it away from the kiddies. That’s all anyone said.

  32. Reply

    Funny these replies are suddenly being wiped. If I’m so bigoted and stupid, surely it’s best to leave them up to expose me as the non-PC reactionary I am?

    So I say once once more, normal issues are what you should expect most kids to face sometimes, so you stagger learning about those issues as they grow. But with non-normal issues, you need to take on a case-by-case basis and keep kids from being freaked out by them (as happens) until they grow.

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