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Mourners tell of anger and grief at vigil for Brianna Ghey in London

‘Constant hatred from news outlets and social media influencers has caused more and more fear around trans people’

Michelle Snow
16 February 2023, 6.14pm

A vigil for murdered trans teen Brianna Ghey outside the Department for Education in London, 15 February 2022


Michelle Snow

Trigger warning: This report makes reference to transphobic abuse and violence

Trans people at a London vigil for trans girl Brianna Ghey have told of their grief at her killing and their anger at a rising level of hatred towards the trans community.

“As I learned about what happened to Brianna Ghey I was very troubled by it,” said one attendee. “I felt that it was very much connected to everything I have been seeing in the news and all the discussions that have been happening in the mainstream media about trans people.”

Ghey’s killing in Warrington has proved a flashpoint for the UK’s transgender community. More than 50 events have been organised and attended by thousands of trans people.

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The vigil that took place yesterday outside the Department for Education (DfE) in London’s Great Smith Street was attended by upwards of 1,000 people. The mood was one of grief and anger – but also some hope that sprung from the sheer number of people who attended. This was not just a vigil; it was also a protest.

There were chants of “protect trans youth”, “fuck the culture war” and other messages pointing to what attendees perceived as attempts to vilify their existence. There was also a minute’s silence, during which attendees lit candles; a short ‘die-in’ protest where people lay down to represent dead trans people; and tributes to Brianna left outside the DfE.

Flowers and cards at the vigil for Brianna Ghey

Flowers and cards at the vigil for Brianna Ghey


Michelle Snow

Trans woman Alice Quinn-Rose later told me how she believed the media’s portrayal of trans people as potential sexual predators could play out in everyday life.

“Constant hatred from news outlets and from social media influencers on the right has caused more and more fear around trans people in the general public,” she said.

“And that culture of hate and that culture of disdain towards us was going to lead to more radicalisation of random people and more violence against us. Because if they are constantly talking about how we are predators… eventually some people are going to start believing that. And what do you do when you see a predator – well, who you perceive to be a predator?”

Two 15-year-olds, from Warrington and Leigh, were charged with murder on Thursday following Ghey’s death on 11 February.

Hate-fuelled media and rise in violence

The organisers of the vigil, Transgender Action Block, released a statement saying that they would not talk to journalists because they believed hostile reporters would misrepresent their words. They also pointed to what they believed failed Brianna Ghey: “A system facilitated by hate-fuelled media that continues to deadname and bully her after death.”

According to research by the UK’s press regulator, IPSO, there was a 400% increase in the number of reports concerning transgender-related issues between 2009 and 2019. During that period, the number of transphobic hate crime reports has increased dramatically.

To many trans people I spoke to, the increased media interest in trans issues is hard to divorce from the rise in violence.

“This is a tragedy,” veteran activist and writer Roz Kaveney told me.

“I am appalled. I am particularly appalled at those who should be onside, like Keir Starmer, who specifically betrayed young dead trans people.”

Starmer has recently come under fire from many trans people over comments he made concerning the government’s decision to block gender recognition reform in Scotland. Starmer specifically came out against the proposed plans to lower the age a person can seek a gender recognition certificate to 16.

I’ve been devastated since I saw the news on Monday morning. I just couldn’t stop crying

Those who spoke at the vigil pointed out that Ghey had been legally unable to get her gender recognised, meaning her death certificate will wrongly register her as male.

But it was not just the Labour leader who attendees criticised. A transgender teacher told the crowd that the DfE and the wider government were failing to address “the violence inherent in our school system” while actively working to make it more “institutionally transphobic than it already is”.

They specifically pointed to former education secretary Nadhim Zahawi saying schools had a “duty” to inform parents if their child chooses not to disclose their gender identity to them. The speaker told the crowd how this would inevitably endanger trans youth as they face violence “from all angles”, including potentially from unsupportive family members.

“I feel drastically unsafe,” artist and trans woman Mary Emma-Holy told me. “I am constantly being triggered. I have so much trauma from how I’ve been treated throughout my life.

“I am constantly aware who is around me, but at the moment I am sort of in survival mode and numbed out and suddenly breaking and crying hysterically.”Emma-Holy told me she had recently suffered transphobic abuse on public transport. The following day she learned about the death of Brianna Ghey and the news struck her particularly hard as a result.

“I’m devastated,” she said. “I’ve been devastated since I saw the news on Monday morning. I just couldn’t stop crying. Nothing has affected me like this.”

Shon Faye, the author of the book ‘The Transgender Issue’, has been addressing the rising level of transphobic hatred in the UK for many years. She told me she decided to attend the vigil because this tragedy “really cut through and just made me furious because it feels so preventable”.

“Brianna Ghey was allegedly murdered by two children,” she told me.

“But children don’t become violent in a vacuum… This Tory-led government and its vile education policy has refused repeatedly to protect trans youth, to implement trans inclusion guidelines and to teach about gender.”

The DfE is due to reveal draft transgender guidance for schools in the coming months, but Faye is not optimistic about this protecting young trans people.

“I don’t particularly trust anything the Department for Education in this climate is putting out,” she said, “because there is this sustained, relentless, media-obsessive, fascist, gender critical lobby constantly trying to force government departments to walk back from anything remotely progressive.”

A sign at the vigil in London for Brianna Ghey

A sign at the vigil in London for Brianna Ghey


Michelle Snow

But the vigil was not just a place for trans people to vent about how the government, the media and other institutions are continually failing and even endangering them. Many told me it was a source of catharsis and seeing the community come together gave them hope that ‘something’ could be done to alleviate the antagonistic culture.

The UK’s transgender people have, through protest and other means, been trying to alert the country to the nature of what they call a “moral panic” (including me). So far, they – we – do not feel like they are being heard.

And while the circumstances of Brianna Ghey’s death are yet to be established, Roz Kaveney was conscious of potential accusations aimed at the trans community for taking the cultural context into account.

“People will accuse us of weaponising it,” she said. “We’re not weaponising it – we’re just really angry and really upset and if they feel called to account by that, tough. Because they deserve to be called to account. It is a disgrace. This country is looking bad in front of the world and I, for one, am sick of it.”

Based on what was communicated to me during this vigil, she is far from alone.

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