Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Opinion: “A Danger to Children.”

I still bear the emotional scars, I have woken up screaming more than once; there but for the grace of God go I. As a former primary school teacher (and NUT rep) helping out at Trans Media Watch I volunteered to help Lucy Meadows, the transgender primary school teacher who was outed and monstered by the Daily Mail in December 2012. The vile headline then reading “He’s not in the Wrong Body, He’s in the Wrong Job.” A typical Daily Mail hatchet-job. Lucy died from suicide three months later. The Coroner at her inquest was scathing about the role of the press in her death.

Because of this media monstering Lucy was unable to go and visit her young child for several weeks around Christmas, as she feared that she would lead the wolf-pack of paparazzi to where her partner lived. She needed to leave her house in Accrington, Lancashire, by the rear entrance every day well before dawn in order to get to school before the paparazzi swarmed round the school gates. She then had to leave late to avoid the same vultures that hung around afterwards trying (and failing fortunately) to extract nasty quotes from parents. I helped her get these vile representatives of the press off her back with the help of others at Trans Media Watch and wrote most of her submission to the Press Complaints Commission, because, understandably she was too stressed and exhausted to do it herself. We will never know whether the complaint was successful because the PCC did not inform her of its decision because by the time it had due to do so so she was dead. The Daily Mail did however, take down the article from its website a week before she died.

So why is this important now? Well the Vice President of the largest teachers union, the NUT has just published a transphobic article in the Morning Star. An article which employs all the usual misleading arguments and dishonest assertions based on zero facts that we have come to expect from transphobes. I won’t bore you with the details but her arguments are the usual fare; trans people are harming/redefining/threatening/whatever… women by being given the same rights as everyone else, QED trans people should stop existing or just live as second class citizens; “Women (2nd class)”. Her arguments will doubtless be pulled apart by someone else, doing so is not difficult, although it is essential.

However the important issue is that she is Vice President of the NUT. The NUT is a union that represents teachers, and today that includes trans teachers also. Trans teachers are in an especially vulnerable position, as Lucy Meadows’ tragic death has shown, and the NUT, like any other union, needs to be able to support its members against transphobia. Not only that but there are many transgender children now in schools in the UK, and like the numbers of trans teachers, this is growing all the time. It is essential that every teacher feels able to challenge discrimination and transphobia against trans children even when it comes from senior management, other school staff, governors, children or other children’s parents, and I have seen it come from all these sources, including from headteachers. Teachers, whether trans or cis, need to know that their union is 100% behind them when supporting their colleagues, themselves or trans children. As of today they cannot have this level of confidence in the NUT.

The transphobic hate, blandly and deceptively expressed by Kiri Tunks is becoming embedded in the discourse of the extreme far right, Tunks joins the likely new leader of UKIP, Donald Trump, Katie Hopkins, Milo Yiannopoupos and some of the fanatical far-right of the Tory party in expressing vile and bigoted anti-trans opinions. Such a person has no place in a trade union some of whose members are trans and all of whose members are likely, at some point in their careers, to come into contact with a trans child.

Earlier this year a 12-year-old trans girl was shot in a school in Manchester, three years ago an American teenager killed herself because she was not getting the adequate local support as a trans woman, a couple of years before that I was helping the parents of a young trans child the headteacher of whose school was bullying her (yes bullying, I am choosing my vocabulary very deliberately here). I have a friend whose trans child is currently being bullied, abused and discriminated against in a primary school in the south of England. A primary school headteacher recently spoke at a transphobes conference in London and I have it on good authority that there are many, many more instances of transphobia going on in schools that I do not have all the details about. How on Earth are teachers going to support trans people, whether children, staff or parents, who are abused, discriminated against or bullied by schools if the Vice President of their union is expressing these vile attitudes? By allowing this the NUT is making another Lucy Meadows of Leelah Alcorn much more likely. This is not an issue of “free speech” or “offence” as transphobic hatred is often dressed up, it is potentially one of life and death.

A few years ago I met an inspirational teacher; Kevin Jennings. He set up the first Gay-Straight Alliance in an American high school; a student society that has been replicated thousands of times across the US. He had been a teacher and had then worked for a campaign group trying to prevent bullying of LGBT children in America’s schools, at the time he was Barack Obama’s advisor on LGBT bullying in schools. One thing he told me, which stayed with me, that was crucial to his campaigning was that if any teacher was not fully accepting of any child, and fully committed to doing the best for all children, regardless of who they are, then they should not be in the teaching profession, “They are a danger to children.” He said. Period. This is why Kiri Tunks should be removed from the NUT. If she is allowed to stay the NUT also becomes a danger to children.

Update; the TERFs have had the petition to have her disciplined about this taken down. So much for their precious 'free speech'.

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