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Wednesday, 27 March 2013

An Open Letter

Background information below.

Dear Madam or Sir,

I am writing to ask what trans-run or trans-lead organisations or campaigners you are collaborating with for your campaign to drive mobile billboards around the Daily Mail?

I am also writing to ask you to reconsider this campaign. While I broadly agree with your goals, this campaign is expensive and I think the money could be better spent elsewhere. Due to the effects of economic discrimination, most trans people in the UK are far from rich. Many struggle to meet normal expenses or those transition -related expenses that are not met by the NHS. Obviously, harassment from the Daily Mail makes the daily lives of many trans people that much harder and contributes to the economic discrimination they deal with, and it's a good use of funds to fight this. However, because these funds are limited, it's important to be judicious as to how they are spent. Existing community organisations like Trans Media Watch are already running campaigns around newspapers and other British media. They also have relationships with media organisations and MPs. Donating money to them would certainly go further than a short-lived publicity stunt involving mobile billboards.

Indeed, I wonder who the intended audience of the billboard campaign is. Surely the Daily Mail is already aware that they're full of hate. After Leveson, Parliament is certainly also aware. I would think even the general public is broadly aware of this at the moment. Therefore, it seems this would most succeed in drawing attention to your own organisation rather than the problem at hand. And while I'm sure you're a very worthy cause and have admirable values, again, I don't think you should be asking trans people to pay for your advertising campaigns. Would you consider dropping the billboard idea and raising money for a pre-existing trans organisation instead, like TMW, GIRES, Press for Change or one of the many other advocacy or front-line groups that are dedicated to helping trans people or improving our lot politically?

I fear that most of your money will not come from tans people at all, but from those with a strong and commendable interest in being allies, who want to Do Something and feel good about themselves in the process. Again, this is not the most judicious way of directing those well-meant donations. Our allies can feel just as good about themselves if they give to an established, long-running, sustainable campaign that succeeds at meeting it's goals as they would feel giving to this publicity stunt. Perhaps they might even feel better, as the organisation the decided to support keeps making progress, vs having only a fleeting feeling of do-gooding which dissipates quickly as the Daily Mail continues to be awful after your short billboard stunt ends.

Thank you for your time,
Dr. Charles Céleste Hutchins

I'm not linking to the fund raising campaign that I'm writing to because I would rather not send users to their site. Briefly, this group has decided to raise £5000 to 'encircl[e] [the Daily Mail's] headquarters with mobile billboards plastered with the stories of the people whose lives [they have] ruined.' This is all related to the untimely and tragic death of Lucy Meadows. She was monstered by the press in general, and specifically her home town paper, but outrage has largely fallen on a Rush-Limbuagh-esque columnist named Richard Littlejohn who wrote some rather nasty things about Lucy a few months ago.

There was a candle-lit vigil in front of the Daily Mail headquarters on Monday in reaction to this. Accounts I've read say that a large number of cis people showed up to stand in solidarity. Indeed, at the last protest I went to that was in regards to how the media treats trans people, cis people also outnumbered trans people.

I see this absolutely as a positive thing. I'm very happy that we have allies standing with us and that outrages against us are drawing general outrage. However, as with any instance where one is acting as an ally, it's important to remember that allies are necessarily present in a supporting capacity. This means listening to those with whom one is allied and letting them take the lead and decide the direction of things.

I strongly suspect the the US-based for-profit company running this fund-raising campaign has slightly overstepped the normal boundaries of being an ally and tried to move more into a leadership role. Indeed, as they are for-profit, what is their revenue model? It's obvious that they, like every petition site, are harvesting our personal information to sell it. How much of the money their raising for this silly stunt are they keeping? How much is going to overhead? How much is allocated for graphic design? Who is doing the graphic design? Who is going to be included and excluded from this billboards? Who decides? Is this even a trans-specific campaign? What is their ultimate goal? To target DM advertisers? Subscribers? To get the paper to entirely re-think their content?

This is all a reminder to pause and think before donating on something, including rage-donations. These can be really powerful and positive, like in the case of Feminist Frequency. But in that case it was very easy to see where to donate. Because Meadows cannot tell us what she wants, we need to be wary of those purporting to speak for her or for the community in general. The most important thing in giving money is not that feeling you get upon having done so, but whether it actually goes to the goal you are trying to support. Are you helping the person targeted? Are you making lasting change? Alas, we can't help Meadows and I don't see how this could make lasting change.

1 comment:

PamelaTrounstine said...

Nice letter. And I agree that from what you've said, it is more publicity and "see we can do something nice" for the corporation than making any real difference, pretty much like every other corporate donation scheme. I know the letter probably won't do anything, but I come from a long line of letter-writers in my family and sometimes, we have learned, it can change the reader's mind, even if its just one reader in a big company that inpgnores it, and it can have an impact next time.