Tuesday, 28 May 2013

On the death of Lucy Meadows

Tonight driving back from work I listened to part of the 6:00 pm news on BBC Radio 4.
There’s a summary of it on the BBC News website here. There are also stories in the Huffington Post, The Independent and the Accrington Observer where, it seems, the whole media show began.
A male teacher at a primary school was about to undergo gender reassignment. The school wrote a letter to parents to explain what was happening. At least one parent was upset by this and the whole story ended up being published by the local and the national press. The teacher concerned was hounded by journalists and complained to the Press Complaints Commission about harassment and an article in the Daily Mail by columnist Richard Littlejohn questioning her right to teach.
The teacher, Lucy Meadows, later took her own life.
The Daily Mail has said there was no link between the article and the teacher’s death and that the article in fact defended the rights of people to have sex change operations.
However, they have removed the article from their web site.
The Daily Mail is a newspaper that is not noted for its fair mindedness. I think that it has a poor track record on how it deals with trans-gender related issues.
Having read Richard Littlejohn’s article, it is true to say that he doesn’t complain about the idea of  gender reassignment.
However, the article does seem to amount to an unjustified, unsubstantiated and unfounded  personal attack upon the teacher concerned.
Here is the text of the article (it isn’t possible to read it on the Daily Mail web site any more, so I can’t post a link to it that will work):
He's not only in the wrong body... he's in the wrong job
PUBLISHED: 17:29 EST, 20 December 2012 |
UPDATED: 03:08 EST, 21 December 2012
Look, it can’t be much fun being a woman trapped in a man’s body. Believe me, ladies, there are times when it’s not exactly a bundle of laughs being a man trapped inside a man’s body.
So I have every sympathy for the 400 or so people a year who opt for ‘gender reassignment’ surgery to put themselves out of their misery.
I don’t even have any problem with sex-change operations being carried out on the NHS, provided it’s a genuine medical necessity and not a lifestyle choice. Transsexuals pay taxes, too.
Schoolteacher Nathan Upton, 32, says he always knew he was born into the wrong sex. Yet he married and fathered a child, now aged three. It was only fairly recently that he decided to go public with his inner turmoil.
The first indications came when he began growing his cropped hair and dyeing it purple. He started turning up for class wearing pink nail varnish and sparkly headbands.
His pupils at St Mary Magdalen’s Church of England Primary School in Accrington, Lancs, couldn’t help noticing. A crayon drawing of Mr Upton by a Year 6 pupil on the school’s website shows him with long hair swept back over his shoulders.
One parent said: ‘I saw what I thought was Mr Upton dressed as a woman in town one weekend, but I decided I had imagined it.’
Oh no, you hadn’t.
Confirmation came in the school’s Christmas newsletter. It started innocuously enough, with a series of routine staff announcements. Then in paragraph six, out of the blue, BOOM! Are you sitting comfortably, children?
‘Mr Upton has made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman after the Christmas  break. She will return to work as Miss Meadows.’
It went on to stress that the school is ‘proud of our commitment to equality and diversity’. Of course they are.
This week, the school’s 169 pupils, aged between seven and 11, were informed class-by-class that from now on, ‘Sir’ would be ‘Miss’.
Teachers told them that Mr Upton felt he had been ‘born with a girl’s brain in a boy’s body’ and would henceforth be living as a woman.
Nathan Upton is now in the early stages of gender reassignment treatment. He issued a statement which read: ‘This has been a long and difficult journey for me and it was certainly not an easy decision to make.’
So that’s all right, then. From now on, kiddies, Mr Upton will be known as Miss Lucy Meadows.
What are you staring at, Johnny? Move along, nothing to see here. Get on with your spelling test. Today’s word is ‘transitioning’.
Mr Upton/Miss Meadows may well be comfortable with his/her decision to seek a sex-change and return to work as if nothing has happened. The school might be extremely proud of its ‘commitment to equality and diversity’.
But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.
Pre-pubescent boys and girls haven’t even had the chance to come to terms with the changes in their own bodies.
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? Anyway, why not Miss Upton?
Parent Wayne Cowie said the news had left his ten-year-old son worried and confused.
For the past three years he has been taught by Mr Upton, but has now been told that he will be punished if he continues to call ‘Miss Meadows’ ‘Mr Upton’ after the Christmas holidays. ‘My middle boy thinks that he might wake up with a girl’s brain because he was told that Mr Upton, as he got older, got a girl’s brains.’
The school shouldn’t be allowed to elevate its ‘commitment to diversity and equality’ above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents.
It should be protecting pupils from some of the more, er, challenging realities of adult life, not forcing them down their throats.
These are primary school children, for heaven’s sake. Most them still believe in Father Christmas. Let them enjoy their childhood. They will lose their innocence soon enough.
The head teacher denies that pupils will be punished for referring to the teacher as Mr Upton but added ominously that they would be ‘expected to behave properly around her.’ Nathan Upton is entitled to his gender reassignment surgery, but he isn’t entitled to project his personal problems on to impressionable young children.
By insisting on returning to St Mary Magdalen’s, he is putting his own selfish needs ahead of the well-being of the children he has taught for the past few years.
It would have been easy for him to disappear quietly at Christmas, have the operation and then return to work as ‘Miss Meadows’ at another school on the other side of town in September. No-one would have been any the wiser.
But if he 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.
In a way I find this kind of personal attack even worse than would have been an attack on the concept of gender reassignment itself. The corner at the teacher’s inquest referred to media character assassination. And to me that is exactly how it reads.
I find it difficult to understand how anyone can say “I have every sympathy for the 400 or so people a year who opt for ‘gender reassignment’ surgery” and then proceed to write an article that demonstrates an almost complete absence of sympathy.
I’m not going to write a line by line critique of Richard Littlejohn’s article. It’s tone, as well as its content, is sufficiently self-defeating.
But I will express my sadness that national and local newspapers, and journalists stoop so low as to write and publish this kind of stuff.
The coroner at the teacher’s inquest said:
"I will be writing to the government to consider now implementing in full the recommendations of the Leveson Report in order to seek to ensure that other people in the same position as Lucy Meadows are not faced with the same ill-informed bigotry as seems to be displayed in the case of Lucy."
Addressing the media at the conclusion of the inquest he said: "And to you, the press, I say shame - shame on all of you."

Maybe Richard Littlejohn’s article wasn’t the direct cause of Lucy’s death. But I find it impossible to believe that it wasn’t a serious contributing factor. And I agree with the coroner, that is a shameful thing. To both the author and to the publishers.

There is an online petition at http://action.sumofus.org/a/daily-mail-littlejohn-lucy-meadows/?sub=taf. Take a look at it if you'd like to express your feelings to the Daily Mail.

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