Yesterday the vigil for Lucy Meadows went off so well, and so peacefully, that not even the Daily Mail could bring itself to talk about a “violent rentamob” — the usual tabloid reaction to any protest against their behavior. Of course it helped that there were two MPs present. Kudos to Graham Jones, in whose constituency Ms. Meadows lived, and also to Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, who went along to support the vigil despite having no direct interest. Stephen Williams, the Bristol MP who talked about our LBGT History exhibition in Parliament, tweeted his apologies to me this morning, and I do appreciate that not every MP is able to free the time for such things.
But things are happening. Mr. Jones has promised to raise the issue of the harassment of Ms. Meadows in Parliament once the coroner’s report into her death has been published. Meanwhile Helen Belcher has been making use of the contacts that she made during her time as a witness at the Leveson inquiry. She reports that Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge and a known supporter of trans rights, has tabled an early day motion to discuss media harassment of trans people today. Which is why I am writing a blog post at past midnight when I’d like to be getting some sleep before I have to do live radio.
Mr. Huppert’s motion is specifically about the press, and it is certainly a very important issue, but given the amount of hot air and lack of action that has surrounded Leveson I’m not sure that much can be done directly to rein the media in. I’m not one of those calling for Richard Littlejohn to be sacked, for a variety of reasons.
Firstly he hasn’t acted alone. There are numerous people, including Burchill, Bindel and the editors of the Mail and Observer, not to mention other newspapers, all of whom have gleefully jumped on the trans-bashing bandwagon. They should bear responsibility too.
Secondly, firing him won’t change anything. He’ll walk into a new job with another newspaper, probably at a massively inflated salary after a bidding war for his services. As for the Mail, they’ll hire someone equally vile, and instruct them to go after trans people in particular. They’ll assume that as long as no one else dies there will be no repeat of the public outrage.
And finally the whole “get Littlejohn” thing seems to me to tap into precisely the same desire to have someone to hate on which Littlejohn’s career has thrived to date. We need to stop making people hate figures, not play the same game.
However, this doesn’t mean that there is nothing that Parliament can do. The reason that the tabloids continue to harass trans people is that they are group that society sees it as legitimate to harass. To some extent that’s a chicken and egg problem, in that society gets its views from the media, but it is also something where Parliament can take a lead, or fail to do so. Sadly, there are many areas in which Parliament has signaled, deliberately or otherwise, that trans people are not worthy of respect. For example:
1. The government’s promised Transgender Action Plan seems to have sunk without trace.
2. The concerns of trans people over the marriage equality bill were summarily dismissed in committee.
3. The Equality Act contains language that implies that a trans woman, no matter how early in life she transitions, no matter what medical treatment she has had, and no matter how long she has lived as a woman, can never “really” be a woman, and may, in some cases, be discriminated against on that basis.
These are things that Parliament can address. Perhaps if they did so, the rest of society would start treating trans people with more respect as well. I appreciate that there’s nothing that can be done tomorrow, because these issues are up for debate, but they are things that Parliament needs to think about. Giving leadership is something that Parliament is good at. Trans people would appreciate seeing a little of it done on their behalf, please.