On 25 October last year, the campaigning group Women in Journalism (of which I am deputy chair) held its first-ever charity comedy evening at a theatre in Leicester Square.

The event – raising money for Z2K – was a great success, not least thanks to our compere, the incomparable with Sandi Toksvig. The only slight hitch was the late arrival of one WiJ committee member, Nathalie McDermott, who had planned to arrive in time to film video clips of the performers before they went on stage.

Sonia Burgess

Sonia Burgess: around 500 people, including leading lawyers, attended funeral

Nathalie had been held up at Kings Cross tube station because of a passenger under a train. Such incidents – which are mercifully rare – tend to be regarded by commuters as unfortunate, rather than remarkable, but what made this one particularly distressing, was that Nathalie had seen the woman fall on to the track. (In true ‘show-must-go-on’ fashion, Nathalie had found another route to the theatre and still managed to make her video blogs.)

I kept in touch with Nathalie over the next few days, as she was understandably shaken by what she’d witnessed – all the more so, when reports emerged that the victim hadn’t fallen accidentally, but had been pushed by a female companion (Nathalie had not seen the build up to the incident; only the fall itself). A murder charge was expected to follow.

The victim was identified as a transgender woman, Sonia Burgess. A little later, it emerged that Sonia was also David Burgess, probably the finest asylum solicitor of his generation – and, by remarkable coincidence, someone I had known well.

David had been one of my first and best contacts when I first started out as a legal affairs journalist in the late 1980s. His groundbreaking work was to be instrumental in developing asylum law as a distinct legal specialism, winning recognition for the special plight of refugees. (In one typically audacious move, he had the then Home Secretary held in contempt of court for failing to comply with a court order to stop a deportation.) Lawyers can be a competitive, critical lot – with those among their number blazing too many trails as likely to attract snarky comments as admiration – but you would have to go a long way to find anyone who would say anything negative about David. As one colleague put it when David announced he was bowing out from legal practice in 2003: ‘He was the lawyer we all wanted to be.’

In recent years, David had spent more and more time in his female persona and those close to him believe he was moving towards living as Sonia full time. However, at the time of his death, he still retained his male identity in his professional life (he had returned to legal work in the last couple of years). At Sonia’s funeral, attended by around 500 people, those (like me) who had only known David – former clients, lawyers and other professional colleagues – rubbed shoulders quite happily with family and those who had only known Sonia – friends (some transgender, some not), and other active members of Sonia’s church.

The calm and poignant way that Sonia’s life – in all its complexity and brilliance – was marked at the funeral was in stark contrast to the media’s prurient and salacious coverage of her death. (‘Tube death man was a lawyer called Sonia’; ‘Sex swap lawyer’s escort ad’.)

When it emerged that the woman who allegedly pushed Sonia was also transgender, the tabloids thought all their Christmases had come at once. Under the headline: ‘”Woman” accused of transgender Tube murder is actually a MAN undergoing a sex change,’ the Daily Mail reported gleefully that the accused, 34-year-old Nina Kanagasingham, appeared in court ‘unshaven’, and had been remanded to a men’s prison.

For both Nathalie and me, the episode was something of a paradigm shift: previously, the way our industry traduces transgender people had not been an issue we were particularly aware of, or – to be frank – much bothered about. However, the reductive and hurtful way that Sonia’s life and tragic death was being reported gave us pause.

Nathalie’s response was to contact Trans Media Watch – the body which monitors the way trans people are portrayed in the media and seeks to educate and inform journalists – and offer her services. (Nathalie runs On Road Media, providing training to charities and other groups on using new media to get their message across.) She has been working with TMW since January, to help trans people use social media more effectively to challenge media stereotyping and inform public opinion on the web.

Another consequence of Nathalie’s contact with the group, is that Women in Journalism is proud to have just become the second organisation (after Channel 4) to agree to sign TMW’s new Memorandum of Understanding, which seeks to improve the way trans people are treated in the media.

I like to think that Sonia – and David – would have approved.

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