22 Mar 2013

Transsexual teacher dies after media coverage

A transsexual teacher is found dead at her home just three months after her transition was made public – a sign, one transsexual ex-teacher tells Channel 4 News, of the struggle trans people face.

Lucy Meadows, transsexual teacher in Lancashire, has been found dead (Getty)

Just before Christmas, a male teacher in Lancashire made public her decision to transition to live as a woman. Her school, St Mary Magdalen’s in Accrington, supported her decision, and told pupils she would be returning after Christmas as Lucy Meadows.

The school’s headteacher Karen Hardman said at the time she realised the issue was “bound to arouse interest” and she was right – as well as the local press, national headlines followed, in papers including the Sun and the Daily Mail.

Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn wrote a piece headlined “He’s not only in the wrong body… he’s in the wrong job”, which broadly supported transsexual people but raised questions over whether Ms Meadows should have stayed at the school.

Earlier this week, Lucy Meadows was found dead at her home. The facts surrounding her death are not yet clear, but police have confirmed that there are no suspicious circumstances and they are not looking for anyone else in connection with her death.

While the details remain sketchy, a petition has already begun calling for an apology from the Daily Mail, and the sacking of Mr Littlejohn. It had almost 5,000 signatures at the time of publishing this article.

It was made very clear to me that I would lose my job if I came out. Natacha Kennedy

Paris Lees, editor of transgender and gender magazine META, told Channel 4 News: “There’s no question she was monstered by the press. No matter what caused her death, that’s an issue. Trans people are vulnerable.

“Countless people have had their lives turned upside down, worrying about losing their jobs, their families, a loved one, and all that pressure and scrutiny – to do that in the public eye is unbelievable.”

One transsexual former teacher who now works in teacher training told Channel 4 News she understood the stress Ms Meadows was put under.

“When I was a teacher a few years ago, it was made very clear to me that I would lose my job if I came out,” said Natacha Kennedy, who now works at Goldsmiths College.

While Ms Meadows’ school was supportive, as were many parents, Ms Kennedy said the stress of being featured in the press on top of the background stress of her transition and job could have “pushed her over the edge”.

Ms Kennedy, who is considering setting up a support network for trans teachers, said it was still very difficult for trans teachers to come out despite the fact that children were often very accepting of transitions.

“All of my experience with kids has been that they don’t have any trouble with trans people,” she said. “But parents, whose fears are built on by sections of the media, that is something that needs to be challenged.”

Struggle for acceptance

This makes it difficult for trans teachers, Ms Kennedy said, listing a number of cases where a teacher has to go to school every day pretending to be male for fear of losing her job. Others have been bullied out of their jobs by managers. Several other trans teachers were wary of speaking to Channel 4 News because of the potential repercussions.

Ms Kennedy herself has to pretend to be male when visiting new schools to protect her teacher training students.

“There’s really no other way. As a teacher training institute, we have to get schools to place our students. And if the school didn’t like the look of me coming in, they could say they will take no more students. I just don’t dare do that,” she said.

I would have gone to pieces if someone wrote a piece about me like that. Natacha Kennedy

Ms Kennedy believes that if it is confirmed that Ms Meadows committed suicide, there will be “lots of questions to answer” for the media.

“I would have gone to pieces if someone wrote a piece about me like that,” she said, stressing that the representation of transsexual people in the media is a key problem.

In a statement, a Daily Mail spokesman told Channel 4 News: “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.

“They might do well to consider today’s words of media commentator Roy Greenslade: ‘Let me begin this posting by urging that people do not rush to judgment… It is important to note that there is no clear link – indeed any link – between what Littlejohn wrote and the death of Lucy Meadows.’

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Lucy Meadows.”

Ms Kennedy believes there should a wider need for acceptance across the board.

“Generally, people are not that bad. But there are always some, and it doesn’t take very many. People still have this idea that trans people are harmful to children, that it’s a sexual thing, and actually it isn’t like that at all.

“So I think it’s a misinterpretation people have of what trans people are like. We’re just ordinary people.”