22 Mar '13

News Trans teacher who killed herself 'had complained of press harassment'

Lucy Meadows is said to have written emails about leaving home by the back door as campaigners plan vigil outside Daily Mail

A primary school teacher believed to have killed herself after her gender reassignment became national news sent emails complaining about being under siege by the press, it has been claimed.

Lucy Meadows, 32, was found dead in Lancashire on Tuesday, three months after starting to live and work as a woman.

Her gender transition was the subject of vigorous press interest after a letter was leaked to the media, which had been written by the head of St Mary Magdalen's C of E Primary School in Accrington just before Chistmas.

In the newsletter, Karen Hardman told parents that a popular teacher at the school, Nathan Upton, should be addressed as Miss Meadows after the Christmas break.

"Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman," wrote the head.

On Friday, Jane Fae, a writer specialising in transgender issues, claimed that she had seen emails sent by Meadows in January to another member of the trans community, seeking help. The email evidence has not been made public.

Fae said in an article for the New Statesman: "[Meadows] talks of her good luck in having a supportive head. But the stress of her situation is also visible. She complains bitterly of how she must leave her house by the back door, and arrive at school very early, or very late, in order to avoid the press pack.

"She talks of the press offering other parents money for a picture of her; of how in the end they simply lifted an old picture from the Facebook pages of her brother and sister without permission. A Year 5 drawing removed from the school website was simply recovered through the magic of caching."

Helen Belcher, director of TransMedia Watch (TMW), which monitors media coverage of trans issues, stressed on Friday that while the circumstances surrounding Meadows' death were unclear, "we know that Lucy suffered a huge amount of monstering and harassment by the press when she was very vulnerable around Christmas. That level of press attention could not have helped her mental state one bit."

Belcher said she raised a complaint on 20 December to the Press Complaints Commission.

The Daily Mail published a picture of Meadows drawn by a child before she began her transition, showing the teacher dressed as a man with long dark hair. Its columnist, Richard Littlejohn, also wrote a column headlined: "He's not only in the wrong body… he's in the wrong job" in which he asked whether anyone had thought of "the devastating effect" on the pupils of Meadows' change in gender.

He wrote: "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?"

Despite the precise circumstances not yet being known, Littlejohn and his paper have come under heavy criticism since the death. A petition has been signed by more than 3,000 people urging the Mail to sack Littlejohn and demanding a formal apology for the stress and pain caused to Lucy Meadows by the columnist, the paper and its readership.

The petition organiser states: "No one deserves to have their lives turned upside down for their gender identity being thrown into the national spotlight."

A vigil has also been organised for outside the Daily Mail offices in Kensington, west London, on Monday at 6.30pm.

The Daily Mail did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Fae said the emails passed to her showed Meadows complaining about how the media only focused on the minority of parents unhappy about her decision to teach as a woman. "Lucy writes of how parents themselves complained that their attempts to provide positive comments about her were rebuffed," Fae said. "The press gang, it seems, were only interested in one story: the outrage, the view from the bigots. The stench of money hangs around – it's widely believed among those connected with the case that money was being offered for these stories."

Jennie Kermode, TMW chair, said: "What we want to come out of Lucy's death is for people in the media to think about what they are writing and the way they are writing it. We are very keen to advise journalists and we want people in the media to know we are here if they have any questions to ask."

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