Tuesday, 31 December 2013
It's not often that you have the feeling of having been present at a watershed moment. Of course, such moments are usually something you only realise were watershed moments after the event.
But looking back from the end of a rather busy year I think I was privileged to witness such a moment, though it certainly didn't seem like it at the time. On a rather dull day at the end of March I was among several hundred people who stood on a West London pavement for a couple of hours outside the offices of the Daily Mail. We had gathered to hold a vigil for a woman called Lucy Meadows who had committed suicide shortly after the Mail had published an extremely vicious piece by columnist Richard Littlejohn questioning her suitability as a trans woman to work as a teacher.
We stood there in the gloom, held a silence, listened to a few speeches and were glowered at by a few Mail hacks leaving the building Then we dispersed - I went to the pub with an ex-boss who I was pleased to find was also there, I'd always harboured suspicions that she might be like me but was never able to ask.
At the time, it seemed a futile gesture. Leveson had delivered his report a few months before and precious little had happened, then Julie Burchill had penned a disgraceful piece about us for the Observer which despite a storm of protest from our community seemed to result in very little censure.
And indeed, it seemed to have little effect on the Mail. Same editor, same star columnist. Same bile, currently directed at immigrants from Romania. Why did we bother!
We were never going to change the Mail through standing on a pavement. But it's only in the last few months that I've come to the conclusion that the Lucy Meadows vigil was a watershed moment. In itself it was a minor step, however while before that moment it was considered acceptable to publish pieces like Littlejohn's or Burchill's, afterwards it most definitely was not. I sense the atmosphere changed after that chilly evening on a West London pavement, the momentum changed ever so slightly in our favour. It would be foolish to say that there will be no more Lucy Meadows moments or unfortunate advertising campaigns, but there is the sense that henceforth they will be fewer and we will no longer have to work to persuade people that they're in bad taste.
Maybe this has been our year, the year everything changed. It would be nice to think so, however I guess we'll only truly know in a decade's time.