I’m Not a Lady and I don’t do Lady Things – Trans* Representation in the Media – NUS LGBT Conference 2013

As Featured on Smoke Radio

Every bit as terrifying to stand up in front the National Union of Students Lesbian Gay Bi and Trans conference, as it was in standing front of the Levenson Enquiry? I’m not sure it was that hostile; Indeed Helen Belcher received a standing ovation for her informative talk of the representation of trans people in the press.

The death of Lucy Meadows has brought transphobia into the public sphere of discussion. Lucy was a transitioning primary school teacher who was outed, first by her local paper, then nationally by the tabloids. The motive behind this outing was discussing whether it was appropriate for a Trans person to be teaching ‘our kids’. If this feels like history repeating itself, it’s because it is very similar to the discussions about Gay teachers during the time of Section 28 in the UK and Harvey Milk in the 80s fighting the ‘Briggs Initiative’ in America too. Obviously Lucy’s gender had no affect on the ability to teach; However the national press, the outing of Lucy’s status and broadcasts like a Radio 2 phone in to discuss whether Trans people should be able to teach all brought the issues Lucy faced into the public debate. It is unsure what happened to Sophie and it is unclear whether she committed suicide or if there were other factors, but its fair to say Lucy did not have an easy ride in the weeks leading up to her death.

In the Eighties a well-known human rights activist Peter Tatchell regularly outed gay people in the name of the public interest. But as Helen pointed out, that practice took place in a phenomenally different context. Tatchell outed politicians and significant figures as gay if they spoke out, homophobicly or against gay rights. Helen defends Tatchells efforts during that era but explained outing Lucy, was not in the public interest. Indeed she said we are enormously privileged to have freedom of speech and press in the UK but never should that freedom be used to take away other people’s freedom and privacy.

Helen also spoke of her time and statements at the Leveson Enquiry as a representative for Trans Media Watch. She believes her submissions were heard because the prejudice and slander faced by trans people is similar to other marginalised communities represented poorly in the media like Single Mothers & Immigrants. Trans people are not Frauds, Deviants or Jokes as they are often shown, they are people like me and you.

Research conducted by Trans Media Watch shows that 8% of Trans people have suffered physical assaults directly linked to bad representation of trans people in the media (A example of this was cited as the Little Britain ‘I’m a Lady’ sketches). Other frightening figures include 48% of Trans people having attempted suicide, 1 in 3 trying twice or more and 1 in 4 trans people lying to medics in from fear of not getting treated , paint a worrying picture.

The press, which as Helen pointed out, has so much power to shape and frame the public debate. It should never consider it acceptable to ‘out’ any individual aspect of a person in the name of ‘Journalism’. Journalism is for serving the public interest and we as a population gain nothing about knowing private information of ordinary people. Helen thinks Journalism should be more focused on Investigative practices, which only makes up 10% of press coverage and warns on the dangers of Churnalism. In a post Levenson report press era although some politicians will lead you to believe there is, Lucy’s Outing is still not illegal and no law has been made to protect people from this sort of press harassment.

If the Press can pick on Lucy, and pick on Trans people AND get away with it. Then who will their next target be?

You can Follow Helen Belcher on Twitter @Arurum_Boss and see the work of Trans Media Watch here