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Brianna Ghey: ‘When the World Finally Saw the Person Her Family Always Loved’

Katherine O’Donnell delivers a powerful rebuke to the media and politicians for the ‘irrational, obsessional’ hatred and misrepresentation that Brianna Ghey and her family faced every day

A family photo of 16-year-old Brianna Ghey who was murdered in a park in Cheshire in February 2023

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Before she was murdered, Brianna Ghey, like all trans people in the UK, had to listen to politicians mock, degrade and dehumanise her.

This didn’t happen just at Prime Minister’s Questions and it wasn’t only Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives who did it.

Prominent journalists, columnists, think tank talking heads, self-appointed anti-trans campaigners and Labour MPs could be found doing it from first thing in the morning on the Today programme, via Woman’s Hour to Newsnight just before bed. It was terrifically popular at any hour on GB News, LBC and Talk Radio.

Brianna’s parents, and all the people who loved her, heard these words too. And we know now that they worried for her future.

Newspapers carried these dehumanising and disingenuous words and ideas. They flooded The Times, The Sunday Times, the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday, the Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph, the Express, The Sun, the Mirror, The Scotsman and the Herald and even the Guardian and the Observer.

Wherever you looked, there it was. Brianna’s parents rightly feared for her safety in a country where this irrational, obsessional hatred had gained such a hold.

Before Brianna Ghey was stabbed to death, the people who wrote and said these things in such abundance wanted us all to be clear that, even if experts and the science disagreed, then they themselves were at least very firm in their common sense views: anyone like Brianna had to be a fantasist, a groomer, a victim of grooming, a paedophile, a victim of paedophiles, a crank, an ideologist, a victim of ideology, a weak-minded sap, a sociopathic monster, a danger to themselves, a danger to others, and above all a threat to other women. And to lesbianism. And hospital wards. Oh and a threat to men who wouldn’t fancy them if they knew and would probably be forced to beat them up if they found out.

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Before Brianne Ghey’s organs shut down, she was, according to the media, a threat to other children who might see her and put on a dress and demand hormones and surgery for themselves, and a threat to parents who didn’t like to talk about that sort of thing. She was a threat to education in the classroom, to changing rooms, to toilets, to teachers in a tizz about God and pronouns, and to academics who couldn’t say anything anymore without some bloody students telling them they were a fascist.

Before there were 28 stab wounds in her precious, beautiful, funny, loving and kind body, Brianna Ghey, like all trans people in the UK, struggled to find the real words and ideas and experiences of people like her represented anywhere. But nonetheless her parents and the people who loved her listened to her, loved her and made it possible for her to be herself.

All of this happened before Brianna Ghey was murdered.

After her murder, after the trial, after the verdict and the sentencing during which the judge made clear that transphobia was a motivation in the attack, after the words of her parents – only then could Brianna become something different to the hatred and misrepresentation in the words of the politicians and media.

She became to the public the person that her family always saw. A child, a teen, a gentle person who deserved a happy and safe life.

That is why Rishi Sunak’s transphobic gag crashed so badly across the House of Commons floor this week and the country beyond. What is a woman? Brianna’s mum and her lost daughter.

Katherine O’Donnell is a LGBTI rights campaigner, a board member of the Equality Network, and former Night Editor of The Times, Scotland


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