UK: Trans teacher believed to have killed herself 'had told of press harassment'
Reposted from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/22/lucy-meadows-press-harassment
Campaigners plan vigil outside Daily Mail over death of primary school teacher Lucy Meadows
A primary school teacher believed to have killed herself after her gender reassignment became national news sent emails complaining about being under siege by the press, it has been claimed.
Lucy Meadows, 32, was found dead in Lancashire on Tuesday, three months after starting to live and work as a woman. Her gender transition was the subject of vigorous press interest after a letter written by the headteacher of St Mary Magdalen's C of E primary school in Accrington just before Christmas was leaked to the media.
In the newsletter, Karen Hardman told parents that Nathan Upton, a popular teacher at the school, should be addressed as Miss Meadows after the Christmas break.
"Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman," the headteacher wrote.
On Friday, Jane Fae, a writer specialising in transgender issues, claimed she had seen emails sent by Meadows in January to another member of the trans community, seeking help. The email evidence has not been made public.
Fae said in an article for the New Statesman: "[Meadows] talks of her good luck in having a supportive head. But the stress of her situation is also visible. She complains bitterly of how she must leave her house by the back door, and arrive at school very early, or very late, in order to avoid the press pack.
"She talks of the press offering other parents money for a picture of her; of how in the end they simply lifted an old picture from the Facebook pages of her brother and sister without permission. A Year 5 drawing removed from the school website was simply recovered through the magic of caching."
Helen Belcher, director of TransMedia Watch (TMW), which monitors media coverage of trans issues, stressed on Friday that while the circumstances surrounding Meadows's death were unclear, "we know that Lucy suffered a huge amount of monstering and harassment by the press when she was very vulnerable around Christmas. That level of press attention could not have helped her mental state one bit."
Belcher said she made a complaint on 20 December to the Press Complaints Commission. The Daily Mail had published a picture of Meadows drawn by a child before she began her transition, showing the teacher dressed as a man with long dark hair.
Richard Littlejohn, a columnist on the Mail, also wrote an article headlined: "He's not only in the wrong body … he's in the wrong job", in which he asked whether anyone had thought of "the devastating effect" on the pupils of Meadows's change in gender.
He wrote: "Why should they be forced to deal with the news that a male teacher they have always known as Mr Upton will henceforth be a woman called Miss Meadows?"
Despite the precise circumstances of Meadows's death not yet being known, Littlejohn and his paper have come in for heavy criticism. A petition has been signed by more than 3,000 people urging the Mail to sack Littlejohn and demanding a formal apology for what they claim was the stress and pain caused to Meadows by the columnist, the paper and its readership.
The petition organiser states: "No one deserves to have their lives turned upside down for their gender identity being thrown into the national spotlight."
A vigil has also been organised outside the Daily Mail offices in Kensington, west London, on Monday at 6.30pm.
The Daily Mail defended Littlejohn's column. A spokesman said on Friday: "It is regrettable that this tragic death should now be the subject of an orchestrated twitterstorm, fanned by individuals – including former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell – with agendas to pursue."
Campbell had tweeted: "I hope journalists are doorstepping Dacre, Murdoch and Littlejohn for their reaction to Lucy Meadows' suicide. The Mail really is scum."
The spokesman then quoted Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade, who stressed in a Guardian blog that "that there is no clear link – indeed any link – between what Littlejohn wrote and the death of Lucy Meadows".
Fae said the emails passed to her showed Meadows complaining about how the media focused only on the minority of parents unhappy about her decision to teach as a woman.
"Lucy writes of how parents themselves complained that their attempts to provide positive comments about her were rebuffed," Fae said. "The press gang, it seems, were only interested in one story: the outrage, the view from the bigots. The stench of money hangs around – it's widely believed among those connected with the case that money was being offered for these stories."
Jennie Kermode, chair of TMW, said: "What we want to come out of Lucy's death is for people in the media to think about what they are writing and the way they are writing it. We are very keen to advise journalists and we want people in the media to know we are here if they have any questions to ask."