The tragic case of Lucy Meadows illustrates what still needs to be learnt about transgender individuals -and the prejudice they still face.
210,148. This is the current number of people demanding the dismissal of Daily Mail journalist Richard Littlejohn. The Sum of Us petition was set up in the memory of Lucy Meadows, a transgender primary school teacher from Accrington, who died in March from a suspected suicide. Ms. Meadows was guilty of nothing more than being honest to herself, her pupils and her school when she took the brave decision to transition and affirm her female identity last December. Despite the full support of the school, one bigoted parent was so offended that he informed the Accrington Observer, which made the foolish and ignorant decision to publish a ‘story’ wholly out of the public interest. The Daily Mail subsequently followed suit with Littlejohn’s article entitled “He’s not only in the wrong body … he’s in the wrong job”. In the wake of Ms. Meadows’ tragic death, thousands of people have voiced their anger, dismay and sadness by signing this petition.
‘Wonderful teacher’, ‘one of a kind’, ‘always nice’ is how 7-year-old Daisy Moreton remembered her teacher on the day of the march though Accrington celebrating Lucy Meadows’ life. The love and support shown towards Ms. Meadows by the village and, most importantly, her young pupils, contrasts starkly with Littlejohn’s ‘concern’ that her transition would be dangerous for the children. However, the heartfelt voice of a child is much stronger than the acid tongue of a journalist, and the children’s reaction is a testament to Lucy Meadows as a teacher. Amongst the many insults, Littlejohn’s claim that Meadows was ‘selfish’ for putting herself above her pupils is the most unjust.
In a nutshell, Littlejohn’s principle ‘concern’ was that Ms. Meadows’ transition would have a ‘devastating effect’ on ‘those who really matter’ and makes the sweeping claim that ‘Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information. Pre-pubescent boys and girls haven’t had the chance to come to terms with the changes in their own bodies.’ However, to say that the children’s needs should come before and above the teacher is unfounded, as Lucy Meadows was within her rights as a citizen and teacher to transition whilst maintaining her position at the school. It is so obvious that it hardly seems necessary to state, but if there were actually real evidence of endangering the children, it would not be an acceptable or legal procedure.
Lucy Meadows had children herself, who, along with her pupils, would have been at the heart of her decision to transition. She wrote in an email: ‘I suppose the best way for me to do this would be to educate the people around me and children at school – I am a teacher after all!’ The truth is that trans* people are present within our communities and they teach our children, some of whom will themselves be trans*. A 7-year-old child whose own gender identity does not match their assigned gender is likely to not know exactly why they feel confused and uncomfortable. A teacher like Lucy Meadows would be an invaluable figure in the development of this child. We should be celebrating having trans* teachers in our schools, not attacking them.
Littlejohn would like to pretend that if children come into contact with the realities of trans* issues their innocence will be broken and that they should be protected from the more ‘challenging realities of adult life’. Time and again the openness and acceptance of young children is underestimated, and studies show that they will happily accept peers and adults who have transitioned without judgement. An anecdote shared by a Sum of Us member who came out to his little cousin as a transgender man expresses this perfectly, as the cousin simply replied “Oh, that makes sense. I always thought you were a boy. Now can we go play Lego?” It is the fear and prejudices of adults which is instilled within children over time that culminates in bigotry. I believe the death of a popular and kind teacher will be much more upsetting for Lucy Meadows’ pupils than a clear explanation and simple acceptance of her change in identity would have been.
Lucy Meadows’ death is a tragic loss to her school and the wider community, but it will not be in vain. The reaction to her death has brought overwhelming support, and peaceful candlelit vigils held for her have attracted many people previously unaware of trans* issues. A parliamentary debate has been planned to address representation of trans* people in the media, and to regulate the freedom of the reader within the press. This is progress, although it is bitterly ironic that the catalyst was the loss of a woman such as Lucy Meadows. But people are willing to open their eyes and arms to silent and forgotten members of our society, and it is my hope that this will encourage people to learn more about issues which are absent from our daily discourse. The first step towards acceptance is, as Lucy Meadows herself said, education and understanding.
Image Credit: Alistair Pulling