Sunday 24 March 2013

UK media needs a sex change

Columnist Richard Littlejohn wrote against transgender teacher, Lucy Meadows. Click to read. 

Last week transgender teacher, Lucy Meadows, was found dead.  It’s assumed she committed suicide following intensely personal attacks against her by some media commentators.   National press interest followed an announcement last Christmas by a north England junior school that their teacher, Nathan Upton, would be returning next term as Lucy Meadows.  

To escape reporters, Ms Meadows had to arrive at school early and leave late.  She complained in private emails about the trauma the press interest was causing her.  Daily Mail columnist, Richard Littlejohn, wrote, “He’s not only in the wrong body.. he’s in the wrong job.” 

Mr Littlejohn's opening paragraph in his column immediately revealed flippancy towards transgender issues, shared also by some other UK media. Look, it can’t be much fun being a woman trapped in a man’s body,” wrote Mr Littlejohn. “Believe me, ladies, there are times when it’s not exactly a bundle of laughs being a man trapped inside a man’s body.”


He reported Ms Meadow’s as stating, This has been a long and difficult journey for me and it was certainly not an easy decision to make.’ 

To which Mr Littlejohn responded, “So that’s all right, then. From now on, kiddies, Mr Upton will be known as Miss Lucy Meadows.  What are you staring at, Johnny? Move along, nothing to see here. Get on with your spelling test. Today’s word is ‘transitioning’.”

Mr Littlejohn continued, “Mr Upton/Miss Meadows may well be comfortable with his/her decision to seek a sex-change and return to work as if nothing has happened. The school might be extremely proud of its ‘commitment to equality and diversity’.  But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren't equipped to compute this kind of information.


On the contrary, it seems to me that some UK media aren't equipped to compute serious issues, especially anything to do with sex.  When it comes to sex, gender and sexuality, some of our tabloid newspapers continue to display a prurient, voyeuristic, immature, prejudiced, sniggering attitude.  This is surely much more damaging and poisoning to children’s minds, and the future adults that they will become. 
The children of the school have reportedly been much more affected by the death of their popular and ‘much loved’ teacher than her decision to change sex, which hadn't caused any problems in the classroom.  Neither had most of the parents, nor the fellow teachers, governors, or head of the school, been concerned about the gender change of Ms Meadows.   She was regarded as a ‘valued member of staff’ and received considerable support from those around her.
Yet such an empathetic, understanding and mature approach was not reflected in some of the media, who chose to ignore the positive comments of parents and fellow teachers about Ms Meadows.

'Gee Whiz'

In his radio show last Friday morning on LBC, Nick Ferrari defended the language of his friend, Richard Littlejohn, in his column about Ms Meadows.  Said Mr Ferrari, “This is what Richard does, this is what Mr Littlejohn has been put on earth to do.  He writes punchy copy that I would imagine sells quite a lot of copies of the Daily Mail... I don’t see a problem with what Richard wrote.”

In his  interview* with Sarah Savage, a transgender equality campaigner, Nick Ferrari justified the media storm about Ms Meadows by claiming, “There’s one sort of simple test for news: news is anything that makes you say ‘Gee Whiz’.  You don’t think a teacher leaving school before Christmas as a man, and returning in January as a woman, that doesn't make you say ‘Gee Whiz?’”

To which Ms Savage replied, “Not at all, it happens across the world.”  She added, “I think the children are best equipped to deal with it; they’re young, everything is new and weird to them.” And Ms Savage expressed the view that it was the adults who were projecting their own prejudices onto the children.


I have a different view to Mr Ferrari about news being "anything that makes you say ‘Gee Whiz’".  His definition certainly seems to affirm that for some media, news is only to entertain and titillate.  For me, the first essential requirement of news is to responsibly and accurately inform about current events relevant to public interest.
Yet, not all blame can be attached to the media.  Without buyers of such stories, there would be no sellers.  Newspapers and media supply stories that they consider appeal to their audiences.
Scotland on Sunday today - against the media coverage. Click to read.
And some media have reacted with more compassion.  Today, Claire Black wrote a piece for ‘Scotland on Sunday’ titled, ‘Lucy Meadows story not in the public interest’
I agree with Claire Black: “..if the media really wants to convince people that it must be free in order to hold the powerful to account, then it must also be judged on how seriously it takes its responsibility to those who are vulnerable.”


Years ago I was the Isle of Purbeck District Reporter for the Bournemouth Evening Echo.  I got into trouble with the News Editor when I described a woman in a story as ‘Ms’.   The News Editor told me, “Jon you have to find out if this woman is married and call her Miss or Mrs, but never Ms.”  The marital status of the woman wasn't relevant to the story, so I asked why, and also why I wasn’t required to find out if men were married.
The News Editor replied, “Because if a woman is single, it’s important to her that she can tell the world she’s available.  And if she’s married, she is proud to show that she has a husband.”
Fortunately, such attitudes have changed, but it can take a long time. 
I don’t want to live in a world where the words of Richard Littlejohn, or the broadcasts of Nick Ferrari, are in any way censored, restricted or controlled.  I would, though, prefer to live in a world where personal and non-criminal issues regarding an individual’s sex, gender or sexuality are considered simply as private, that will not evoke an infantile ‘Gee Whiz’ response from the media, or their readers and audiences.

© Copyright Jon Danzig 2013

*Extract of this broadcast from LBC Radio on Friday 22 March 2013 has been used under the UK's Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 'fair dealing' provision for news reporting and review.  More about Nick Ferrari's radio programme on LBC 97.3:  Nick Ferrari LBC

Other articles by Jon Danzig:


  1. Thank you for a thoughtful and considered response.

  2. My thoughts go out to all those who knew and loved Lucy for what she was, especially the children. I wonder how reporters like Mr Littlejohn ever sleep at night but have no doubt it is not a problem for them.


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