Now that the trial has concluded and the sentence handed down its time to consider what is justice for Brianna Ghey? Some think its the life sentences for the youths who murdered her, but I’m not so sure.
By all accounts of those that knew her, Brianna was a vibrant, smart, caring, beautiful and no nonsense kind of girl. It is immeasurably upsetting that we will never get to see the kind of woman she would have become and even further upsetting that life sentences or not, justice for Brianna Ghey is an unlikely outcome.
To understand why lets have a quick recap of the events surrounding Brianna Ghey’s life, death and the trial of her murderers. Brianna Ghey was murdered in a park in Culcheth in February 2023. Prior to this; anti-trans groups had been mobilising themselves against transgender youth around the world for nearly a decade.
One of the most prominent examples of this in the UK is the targeting of Susie Green, former CEO of Mermaids UK. Green, in her role as CEO of the support group for trans youth, faced years of anti-trans harassment including accusations of child abuse, attempts to associate her with child sex exploitation and multiple transphobes showing up to her speaking events too.
This wasn’t just some side-show on social media either, many of these events made the mainstream media and often took a sympathetic view of the transphobes stalking and harassing her.
Further examples of anti-trans activists targeting children include JK Rowling’s 2020 essay, anti-trans orgs like “TransgenderTrend” whose CEO received British Honours for services to children in 2022, and multiple BBC led coverage of anti-trans beliefs about trans healthcare. It is not uncommon for transphobes on social media to simply tell you that trans youth aren’t real or to argue that transition should be reserved for those above 18 – or even 25 in some examples.
Some of these stories, such as the Keira Bell case which was eventually overturned, had an impact on my access to healthcare as an adult transgender woman. I imagine the impact faced by transgender youth such as Brianna Ghey was immeasurably worse.
Politicians have also repeatedly taken swipes at trans people and in particular trans youth. In the months prior to her murder Brianna Ghey would have had to watch as the UK Government opposed the democracy of Scotland regarding its gender recognition reform bill, Rishi Sunak install multiple openly transphobic MPs to his cabinet, multiple Tory leadership campaigns which were fought in part on a platform of transphobia, and statements from the Education Secretary suggesting trans youth must be outed to parents.
And that is by no means an exhaustive list. This is some of the context in which Brianna Ghey lived her life – I wouldn’t feel safe taking the bus on my own as a trans teenager either.
The two youths who murdered her also lived in that context. Demonstrated by the anti-trans language they used when discussing their plans; language which is used every single day to dehumanise trans people online and in the media such as referring to trans people as “it” or “things”. In court one of the killers even admitted that Brianna’s vulnerability would make her an easier target.
After her death the media rushed to find out and publish her deadname while others worked to sensationalise the story. A podcast claimed it would cover the “twists and turns” of the whole trial. Even queer media sources like Pink News focused on the parts that would sell headlines rather than the substantive parts of the trial.
Outside of the court and on social media transphobes were doing their utmost to minimise role transphobia played in Brianna’s murder. Kathleen Stock claimed the Judge had “specified transphobia was not a factor” and accused those who believed otherwise of scaring children and parents in order to make money. An article in The Guardian by Helen Pidd is headlined; “why the police so quickly ruled out transphobia as motive”.
Even now as the dust settles around the case and The Judge has fully ruled that transphobia did in fact play a part in the murder of Brianna Ghey; transphobes refuse to believe it. Some are engaging in outright denial of Brianna’s status as a transgender girl and insisting that she was a gay boy that had been groomed.
So forgive me if I don’t think that two kids being locked up for 20 years will be justice for Brianna Ghey. Because it won’t be. There is no justice for her or for any of the other transgender youth living under these circumstances in ignoring what led to her being targeted. The focus on the murderers, their lives, the bloodlust for their conviction and the desire to see them have a higher sentence do absolutely nothing for finding justice for Brianna Ghey.
In fact they might very well do the opposite. They work to provide an excuse. They work to separate the consequences of constantly escalating anti-trans narratives in mainstream politics and media from the twenty eight stab wounds a young girl suffered before dying on the cold wet floor of a park in Culcheth. They work to allow us to wash our hands of the situation by treating it as though the work is done now we’ve locked up the perpetrators.
But it isn’t done. Even now anti-trans politicians and media continue to mobilise against trans people’s equality. Transphobes didn’t even skip a beat for the sentencing and while trans people were all watching coverage of that, transphobes were gathered around a concrete pillar in London to tell it how cross they were with it for having rainbow flags now.
Justice for Brianna Ghey was never going to be found in the courtroom. It isn’t a sentence that can be handed down by a Judge. Her murderers could rot or be let out tomorrow and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. Because justice for Brianna Ghey is something that can only be found through the full dismantling of the anti-trans environments our press and politics continue to indulge in.
Justice for every transgender youth who is too afraid to ride the bus on their own can only be found when they don’t have to be afraid of living any more.