Monday’s vigil seemed to come from nowhere. It’s certainly nothing to do with Trans Media Watch. It’s strongly positioned as a vigil of respect, not as a vigil of protest, for which I’m relieved. I plan to be there, to show my respects to another trans person, harassed then monstered by a press who wouldn’t let go – a person who was taken from us too early.
There are at least two petitions circulating, essentially calling for Richard Littlejohn’s head on a plate. These petitions look as though they may rival Hacked Off’s petition for support – when I last looked, over 95,000 had signed the largest one I’m aware of. That’s simply immense.
But I haven’t signed them – because I don’t really believe that sacking one individual will change the underlying culture of dehumanising objectification that drapes like a heavy, suffocating, velvet cloth across the tabloid industry. Hitting advertising revenue and circulation will. Or effective regulation. Or a commitment to educate and listen.
Suddenly the representation of trans people by the media is in the public consciousness like never before. Actually, it’s the mis-representation of trans people by the media which has been raised. Maybe it’s the conjunction of Lucy’s unfortunate death and the massive broo-haa-haa over the Royal Charter at the beginning of the week that has made the public want to scrutinise press behaviour more. Maybe because it followed soon after the Observer’s decision to publish that odious Julie Burchill article. Whatever the reason, suddenly thousands of people – many times the number of visibly trans people out there – are coming forward to say to Dacre, Mohan, Desmond and the rest, “that’s enough”. The reaction to Burchill was strong. The reaction now is stronger still.
When you look at the comments on both the local paper’s original article that outed Lucy, and their subsequent report of her death, it is clear that Lucy enjoyed the support of most of her community. Her transition was of interest maybe to the people who she worked with and taught, but beyond that, did it really deserve to hit the local press? Certainly a lot of the commentators didn’t think so. And if it was really a non-story for the local press, why did it hit the nationals – especially so soon after Leveson’s report lambasted the tabloids for the way they covered trans stories? I’ve written elsewhere about Dominic Mohan and the way the Sun had “raised their game” in terms of this kind of reporting.
To those of us who worked on the TMW submission to the Leveson Inquiry, the harassment that Lucy experienced is not unique. We included 10 personal accounts which detailed how the press had “investigated” and “reported” their stories – together with the effects. It was the hardest reading I have ever had to do. We cannot release the stories into the public domain, simply because each individual was too terrified of experiencing such press abuse again. And what was described can only be described as abuse. And we know there are others.
I have been contacted by at least four other trans people since, each of whom has their own version of the story, each of whom lives in constant fear of having to relive their individual press horror. Many are relieved to be able to share their story safely with someone who has at least an academic knowledge of what they have gone through. I know others in TMW have also had similar contacts. And there are other trans people still who are still too scared to come forward, even in confidence.
Lucy provides one example of appalling press behaviour. There are many others. And just one instance is one too many.
This is the real story, and it allies with TransDocFail, and chimes in with the sad stories emerging around Jimmy Savile and others. Power and influence going unchallenged while damaging and exploiting vulnerable people, people who could be easily cowed.
As I wrote earlier, the trans communities are not alone in being exploited in this way. We’re slightly unusual in that we have some level of legal protection under the Equality Act. Other groups, such as prisoners, travellers, asylum seekers and youth, don’t. I imagine that what the press does to trans people, it does to other vulnerable people too. I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect not.
I’m aware that I’ve already received criticism for “exploiting” Lucy’s death to further my own aims. Actually, nothing would please me more than to be able to say “job done” and lose any public profile I may now have. I’m in this because I, also, live in fear – not so much for me but for my family. I don’t want to live in fear any more.
So, tomorrow evening, I’ll be standing there because of the way the tabloids, not just the Mail, reported her life, then reported her death. I’ll be standing there ruing the lack of any effective curb on press behaviour. And I’ll be standing there thinking not only of Lucy, but of the other trans people I know who have also been pilloried by an uncaring, corporate, bullying press – and hoping that no-one else ever gets added to that list ever again.