Transgender primary school teacher who 'took own life' had sought protection from media hounding before her death

Suicide provokes ethics row as emails show how Lucy Meadows had to dodge reporters at school

Jonathan Brown
Saturday 23 March 2013 01:00 GMT

A transgender teacher who is believed to have committed suicide after her case appeared in the national media said she hoped “bigotry and prejudice” would become things of the past.

In an email, seen by The Independent, sent to a supporter before her death, Lucy Meadows describes how she had to dodge waiting reporters and photographers as she went to work at the primary school in Accrington, Lancashire.

It emerged yesterday that Ms Meadows, who was Nathan Upton before the sex change, contacted the Press Complaints Commission, which circulated a note urging editors to call off reporters and photographers from pursuing the teacher. The 32-year-old was found dead at her home on Tuesday after apparently taking her own life. The cause of death is not known.

Her decision to undergo gender reassignment in December was reported in a number of national newspapers and was the subject of a controversial comment piece by the Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn, who accused the popular teacher of “putting his (sic) own selfish needs ahead of the wellbeing of the children”.

Last night, more than 3,000 people had signed a petition demanding that Mr Littlejohn be sacked and a vigil is planned to be held outside the offices of the Daily Mail in London on Monday to protest at the newspaper’s coverage. Mr Littlejohn’s column has since been removed from the Mail’s website.

Actor Hugh Grant and former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell used their Twitter feeds to highlight the case claiming it illustrated another example of press misconduct.

In a statement, the Daily Mail said Littlejohn’s column “emphatically defended the rights of people to have sex change operations but echoed the parents’ concerns about whether it was right for children to have to confront complex gender problems at such a vulnerable young age”.

It added: “It is regrettable that this tragic death should now be the subject of an orchestrated twitterstorm, fanned by individuals... with agendas to pursue. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Lucy Meadows.”

In her email, Ms Meadows describes her daily life after her gender reassignment was reported. “I became pretty good at avoiding the press before Christmas. I live about a three-minute walk from school as they were parked outside my house as well as school. I’m just glad they didn’t realise I also have a back door.

“I was usually in school before the press arrived and stayed until late so I could avoid them going home. I know the press offered parents money if they could get a picture of me… Many parents have been quite annoyed with the press too, especially those that were trying to give positive comments but were turned away,” she said.

However, she seems optimistic about the future. “I do just want to get on with things but the more I talk to (and deal with) people the more I find myself wanting to do something to rectify gaps in people’s knowledge and understanding on LGBT issues and combat bigotry and prejudice.

“I do hope that times really are changing; it’s nice to think that one day in the near future issues like this will be in the past… I guess I started out just wanting to be me and figured out each step I’d take at a time. Not everything has gone the way I wanted but things have fallen into place one way or another and I am happy where I am at the moment. The guidance I have had from the trans community has been generally sound and very appreciated and I’d like to be able to say I have given something back.

“I suppose the best way for me to do this would be educate the people around me and children at school – I am a teacher after all!”

The PCC confirmed it had received a number of complaints in relation to the Littlejohn article, which was headlined: “He’s not only in the wrong body… he’s in the wrong job.” A spokesman said: “A complaint was resolved, but we are unable to provide further information at this stage.”

Helen Belcher, of Trans Media Watch, which monitors the reporting of transgender issues, said the case showed it was time for the media and politicians to recognise the harm that reckless reporting can do.

“I want people to come to their senses and realise the effect that coverage can have. Our politicians need to realise that trans people face real problems and the media is generally not helping – it is hindering. We need to sit up and listen,” she said. “Lucy was being pursued by the press through the Christmas holiday and the new year. She had two weeks of constant harassment and monstering.”

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