Lucy Meadows – a tragedy that must not happen again.
This week a teacher apparently killed herself. Her name was Lucy Meadows and she had been the victim of a campaign of harassment and intimidation. However this was not by her employers, or by fellow workers, but by the media.
While unions have a proud record of protecting members from harassment and bullying at work perhaps we forget that many of our members face harassment by people outside their work, even though it is work related. Examples are social workers and medical staff scapegoated by the tabloids after child protection cases or care workers criticised because of the failings of their employer.
Lucy Meadows was a primary teacher in Accrington. Lucy was raised a man and had started work at the school while still a man. Last year she notified her head that she was to undertake gender reassignment and wanted to return to school after the Christmas holidays as Lucy Meadows. The head teacher was apparently very supportive and told pupils that that when they returned after the holidays, the teacher they had known as Nathan Upton would then be known as Miss Meadows. He wrote to parents to say that “Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman.” According to reports, most parents were supportive.
Within days the story made headlines in the tabloids. The press camped out on Lucy’s doorstep and outside the school. She complained she could not leave the house by the front door. Reporters contacted parents to try to get negative comments and they were offered money for pictures of her.
It is difficult for us to imagine what life is like under that kind of pressure. It must be like living under siege, not being able to trust friends, being scared to go to the shops. Even fearing what the next mail will bring or who the next phone call will come from.
Yet what had she done? Like many others she had felt that she was in the wrong body and wanted to change that. It was very much a personal decision and one which had no bearing on anyone else. She was also remarkably brave by deciding to stay at the same school after her transition. Many others would have instead chosen to change jobs and make a new start. Lucy did not. By staying she was saying she had nothing to be ashamed of and what she was doing was perfectly natural for her. This made her a hugely positive role model for the children.
This week Lucy was found dead in an apparent suicide. I do not know if this was a result of the harassment by the press or not. To a certain extend it does not matter. It is quite evident that this level of intrusion is going to have a devastating effect on a person’s physical and mental health and there was no justification for any intrusion into Lucy’s personal life.
Twenty or thirty years ago lesbian and gay teachers faced the same “exposure”. Now we find this happening to trans people. And like with gays thirty years ago Lucy had no protection from the law or the regulators. The harassment of Lucy happened post – Leveson, after the press were assuring us that they had changed. They still insist that any form of regulation is an attack on their right to free speech, but Lucy Meadows had rights as well and those were trampled on by these very same newspapers.
The principle of a “free press” cannot be used as a front for allowing newspaper editors to spout what can only be described as bigotry and hate with no regard for the consequences.
Over the last thirty years we have managed to change the climate in respect of lesbians and gays, much of that was because of the work that was done by unions. Unions have also been instrumental in getting support for trans people in the workplace. As a result people like Lucy have found the courage to be open about their decisions. Unfortunately it is clear that we have a long way to go.
Lucy, I am sorry we were not able to do more to protect you when you were alive. We can however try to stop it happening again. At the very least sign the petition to the Daily Mail demanding an apology for the disgraceful piece by Richard Littlejohn.
There is also a vigil outside the Daily Mail offices at Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT on Monday 25th March at 6:30.