Steph Holmes

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Trans activism is littered with examples that can be filed under Don't You Wish You Hadn't Taken That Supposedly Unmissable Opportunity. One more to add to that unhappy pile is the political opportunism of Steph Holmes, founder and leader of Chrysalis Transsexual Support Groups, who issued a press release condemning the pantomime dames race fundraiser for Derian House Children's Hospice. There has been a strong reaction against Chrysalis in the media and on social media, because this concerns terminally ill children and partly because it was reported in the local press (and then picked up nationally) that Steph Holmes had complained to the police that the race was a hate crime. It has subsequently been revealed that the hate crime complaint was made by Victoria Richardson, a user of the Chrysalis Transsexual Support Groups. Holmes has been at pains to assert that Richardson is not an office holder in Chrysalis and that the support group had no role in reporting the fundraiser as a hate crime. Yet Holmes issue a press release on behalf of Chrysalis that criticised the race and is now seeking to play down her own role in how this piece of political opportunism got out of hand. In this article I will attempt to pick my way through their smokescreen and when you get out on the other side you may be very surprised at what lies behind the smoke.

According to Holmes the story begins on Thursday 20 August 2015 when a member of Chrysalis Transsexual Support Groups informed her that Derian House Children's Hospice was advertising a race in which men would dress up as women, very likely this information was derived from the article in the Chorley Guardian published the previous day. Holmes issued a press release on behalf of Chrysalis in which she condemned this as dehumanising to transsexuals, because it was dehumanising to transvestites, a group that Chrysalis are keen to disassociate themselves from through their rejection of the term transgender. The problem with seeking publicity is that it can garner you publicity over which you have no control and that is what happened next.

On Saturday the Daily Telegraph picked up the story via a news agency and quoted Steph Holmes' press release in the context of claiming that Chrysalis Transsexual Support Groups had complained to the police. There was also an article in the Daily Mirror, which Gay Star News journalist Jane Fae persuaded them to take down on Sunday on the grounds that the agency had not checked the facts with Steph Holmes before publishing. Fae has made a lot in a Pink News comment section of her professionalism in querying this with Steph Holmes, but without stating that Holmes and Fae are past acquaintances. They have known each other since Trans Media Watch's ill-fated press regulation campaign based on the suicide of Lucy Meadows, a topic to which I will return later in this article. On Sunday Gay Star News published Jack Flanagan's interview with Holmes, by which time she was distancing Chrysalis from the hate crime complaint. The Chorley Guardian early on Monday morning reported on the complaint again using Holmes' press release and linking her to the hate crime complaint. Also on Monday Holmes and Fae combined on the fight-back with Fae writing an article for Gay Star News that blamed the news on someone leaking a discussion of the run on the group's Facebook page, with no mention of Holmes' press release. This is despite the fact that only the previous day a Jack Flanagan article appeared in the Gay Star News in which he interviewed Holmes about that press release. Fae's article also includes a quotation from the chair of Trans Media Watch, Jennie Kermode, which is the point at which we need to return to campaign launched in the name of Lucy Meadows.

A major hub of the press regulation campaign fought after Lucy Meadows' death on 19 March 2013 was the now defunct Facebook group of Trans Media Watch. Fae was very active in the group at the time, although she largely dropped out after Meadows' funeral. On 22 March 2013 Fae's article appeared in the New Statesman, which revealed details of an email that Meadows had sent to someone (possibly Trans Media Watch) seeking advice. Two hours after Fae's article appeared Steph Holmes posted on the Trans Media Watch Facebook group with a further breach of Meadows' confidentiality. Holmes is a volunteer for the Lancashire Police as a trans liaison through their Independent Advisory Group. She revealed that she had been liaison to Meadows in December 2012 and in breach of professional ethics she shared her view of Meadows' mental health at the time. That Facebook post was deleted sometime after 1st April 2013, but similar revelations made in a comment to a 27 March 2013 Lancashire Times article remain in public view. Holmes made that latter comment less than 24 hours before attending Meadows' funeral.

Fae was also at the funeral, despite Kermode making clear when advertising it that the media were not welcome. Indeed, when Holmes posted about attending the funeral she proclaimed that "at least the media left us alone." When I discussed this in my book Inquest into a Campaign I assumed that Holmes was unaware that the woman that came up to chat to her was the journalist, Jane Fae. This current controversy in which Holmes and Fae appear happy to distort the truth now makes me suspect that Holmes was trying to protect Fae. This proved unnecessary as Fae commented on the thread that she was delighted to meet Holmes and then justified her presence at the funeral by pointing out that she turned up under her real name, which is not Jane Fae. Not only did Fae attend the funeral, but she presented herself to the Meadows' family as a representative of Trans Media Watch and offered them the charity's help. The family response was a request to stop campaigning in the name of Meadows and for the most part Fae stopped her involvement in the campaign from that point.

Before leaving the Lucy Meadows campaign and returning to the present I want to focus on the opening of Holmes' comment on the Lancashire Times. She complains that the article begins "the death of a male teacher who decided to live as a woman" and goes into a long diatribe about proper reporting on transsexuals. Yet when Holmes had gender realignment surgery in April 2014 she was happy for write-ups to appear nine months later in the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail that used similar language. In fact, the photograph of her in the since removed Daily Mirror article about the pantomime dames race comes from the Press Association provided photographs from that January 2015 article.

So despite Fae attempting to portray this controversy as a leak to the press from a Facebook group it is in fact the result of a press release by Holmes in the name of Chrysalis Transsexual Support Groups. Nevertheless, the reporting of the pantomime dames race as a hate crime was the responsibility of Victoria Richardson and it was she who met the hospice on Monday 24 March, not Holmes. The attempt to make this appear to be all about the police complaint has not satisfied Holmes in her efforts to shore up her tattered reputation. She has also been responding on the Chrysalis Transsexual Support Groups Facebook page and her personal Facebook page by making a claim that the original plan was for the race to be a drag race, but that it was changed later to be a pantomime dames race. Unfortunately for Holmes fact-checking cuts both ways and her claims do not hold water.

Holmes informed Gay Star News journalist Jack Flanagan that she first heard about the race on Thursday, yet the local newspaper was reporting the previous day that Derian House would be holding a Dames on the Run fundraising race and that name is used immediately after the comment from fundraiser Susie Poppitt that Holmes quoted to Flanagan. Whether Holmes is quoting that article is neither here nor there; it is quite clear that Derian House are telling the truth when they describe it as a fundraiser based on pantomime dames from the outset. Holmes and Richardson have both sought to claim that they forced the charity to switch an original drag race to a pantomime one, but the fact-checking works against them, especially when the Wednesday 19 August article gives the event page as

Holmes claims in the Jane Fae article on 24 August that she is worried that Chrysalis will suffer reputational damage if people think they tried to ban a fun run. Yet again the evidence goes her and she is stuck with the consequences of a very foolish piece of political opportunism. Before the Chrysalis Transsexual Support Groups Facebook group was taken private supporters of Derian House screen captured some of the posts. Some of these screen captures were posted to Holmes' personal Facebook page, including one that has Victoria Richardson comment on her hate crime report and Holmes reply that she will use her contacts in the police Hate Crimes Unit to ensure that the matter is dealt with speedily. Holmes told Flanagan in the article published on Sunday that reporting Derian House to the police was vile, yet on the previous Wednesday night rather than call Richardson vile, she offered to speed up her hate crime claim. In that same article Holmes claimed that she first heard about the race on Thursday, so it looks like she is trying to distance herself from her own actions the previous night. Unfortunately, she made the Facebook group private too late and someone else has claimed (without a screen capture) that Holmes responded to Richardson with a promise that Chrysalis would protest the race if it ever took place.

The good news to come out of this debacle is that the police declined to investigate the case, the Dames on the Run fundraiser is going ahead, and you can donate to the hospice here. The bad news, well, Victoria Richardson, Steph Holmes, and Chrysalis Transsexual Support Groups are just plain bad news with a generous helping hand from Jane Fae.

© Mercia McMahon. All rights reserved