Vicky Thompson, a transgender woman in a men's prison, was found dead in Armley Prison (HM Prison Leeds) in a suspected suicide. She died on 13 November and on 19 November her death was revealed in the media. There was a quick, too quick, reaction from transgender activists stating that the law had to change. The law in question being whether to imprison transgender people in men's or women's prisons. The rule is that if someone has changed their birth certificate then they go the prison for the sex given on that document. Otherwise there is a case conference to assess which is the appropriate type of prison. Transgender activist, Zoe O'Connell, called for the Ministry of Justice rules to be changed and that is a more appropriate call than a legal change. The knee-jerk reaction to call for the law to change, including from the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, is too unnuanced a response.
A report from March in the Keighley Times states that Thompson was accused of a mugging and a series of petty crimes committed while under a suspended sentence. From that it would appear that there was no greater danger to female inmates from Thompson than from any other woman. Her victims were women (a 15-year-old and her mother), but a lot of crimes by women are against other women. Thompson's crimes appear to be neither sexual nor particularly serious, so the question of rules comes into play in the sense that is the Ministry of Justice focusing too much on the first half of the rules (going by the birth certificate) and not by the second (holding a case conference). Tim Farron and others are wrong, however, to call for a blanket change in the law, because the definition of transgender is very broad indeed and so a case conference element is necessary.
Predictably there is already a media storm and a Change.org petition. It appears that nothing has been learnt from the misguided campaign over the suicide of Lucy Meadows. Natacha Kennedy was one of the activists who was most certain that Meadows had killed herself because of a report in the Daily Mail three months before her death. When a vigil was being planned outside the Daily Mail offices and objections were raised that it was too soon, Kennedy asserted that it must go ahead "as soon as possible, for a bunch of reasons." Presumably one of those bunch of reasons was that transgender activists were strenuously campaigning in favour of press regulation at the time, as the Leveson Report was being considered by Parliament. Again with this apparent suicide of Vicky Thompson, Kennedy is using the death to serve a wider purpose. In this case to continue the argument between feminist academic Germaine Greer and transgender activists. At that vigil, which did happen soon after Meadows' suicide, Kennedy was said to have claimed that the Daily Mail bore some responsibility for Meadows' death, a claim that the inquest would refute two months later. Again Kennedy is rushing is to make a politically charged statement without waiting for further information to emerge.
When will the transgender activist community learn to wait in cases of suspected suicide? Probably not while social media exists and personal reputations can be made and enhanced.
© Mercia McMahon. All rights reserved