So it was, indeed, Leelah’s parents who asked Tumblr to take down her blog. Not just the suicide note which, in accordance with their own T’s & C’s, Tumblr might have been expected to.
But EVERYTHING. Leelah’s random jottings. Her drawings. Her name.
Because, of course, in the view of some, those things were never hers. They were, and are, the property of the parents – for them to dispose of as they will.
Or are they? Stand by for an interesting and possibly very interesting legal battle.
Let’s start with the erasure of Leelah. I spotted this yesterday afternoon while working on a slightly different angle to the story. Like a good little reporter, i attempted to dig a little deeper: but Leelah’s parents are barely speaking to anyone in the press.
And Tumblr! Well, like many cutting edge social media organisations, they are a nightmare to get through to. After a somewhat fruitless half hour ringing round various numbers in New York, i gave up and reported the story bare.
Leelah’s blog was down. Various theories existed as to why. Not my job to speculate any further.
Full marks to the Daily Mail, therefore, for taking this on to the next level, making contact with Tumblr, and confirming that the blog has been made inaccessible at the request of Leelah’s family.
According to a statement published by MailOnline, a Tumblr spokesman said: “When a direct family member contacts us about the blog of a deceased user, we work with them to provide their desired outcome.”
For pity’s sake
That is interesting – and almost certainly presages a new and darker twist to this already pretty bleak saga. Because there are two reasons why one might go along with the wishes of the family in such a case.
The first, out of respect and sympathy for the family: the second because you (or your lawyers) consider that the family have some legal claim to control of the content.
I can well understand the first. After all, in ordinary circumstances, where someone’s nearest and dearest dies suddenly, it is simple respect to go along with their wishes. Isn’t it?
Well, no. Not exactly. Some people clearly believe that Leelah’s family were in part responsible for her death, and they will surely argue that giving the family the right to suppress her views is wrong.
In the EU, too, there would be data protection considerations, although i suspect these would play very differently in the US of A.
The much bigger issue is whether, apart from the emotions involved, the family have any rights whatsoever to dictate what happens to Leelah’s blog now.
Here, i will own to not having the faintest about what US law says on the matter. I’m not entirely clear what UK law would say either, so here’s some thinking, some open-ended jottings if you like, that those more learned in these matters than i can develop.
Were Leelah still alive, i think in the UK there would be not a shadow of a doubt that her blog would stay. Its uncomfortable, edgy, but probably not quite libellous. Its hers. And while she would remain, in English law, a child, at 17 she would have many rights.
Those rights, courtesy of a certain Victoria Gillick would include, as appropriate, the right to birth control, as well as extensive rights to determine her own medical treatment- all without any need to seek parental consent.
Had she lived in the UK, she might well, as occurred recently in Australia, a jurisdiction based on similar legal precepts, been accorded the right to seek medical treatment independently of the wishes of her parents.
And her blog? Well, here i am not entirely clear. Children in the UK are very limited in their ability to control their own legal and financial affairs. However, where a clear indication of a child’s wishes in a significant matter is given, i strongly suspect a court would look for ways to uphold those wishes.
And what were Leelah’s wishes? They may not have been expressed in a standard legal form, but arguably they were clear and probably written at a point when she was angry but rational. She wrote, in her now removed blog:
As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a s**t which one.
Yes. One can argue the toss on that. Which trans organisation? Perhaps some weasel lawyer, relying on that second sentence, will attempt to get her worldly goods donated to a trans reparation therapist.
But that’s obviously not what she means.
Likewise the blog. Perhaps it doesn’t have any obvious monetary value (although given the footfall in recent days, it could easily be monetised and generate significant revenue for any charity prepared to take it on).
Very clearly, Leelah wants nothing of hers to go to her family: everything to go to trans support.
I hope, in the days and weeks to come, we will be pleasantly surprised to discover this has happened.
If we don’t, then a most interesting legal landscape opens up in which, perhaps, a lawyer acting on a pro bono basis will be needed to challenge blatant attempts to lay claim to Leelah’s estate by people she absolutely wanted to have no continuing part in its control.
Although, in the end, just handing the blog over to the trans community would feel to be the more charitable – one might even say, Christian – way forward.