Silencing Black Transgender Women

A recent DiversityInc article raised awareness of the 12 transgender women who were murdered in the US in 2014. The article isn’t perfect – it criticizes the media for its attention to Eric Garner and Michael Brown and not these transgender women, ignoring the fact that many more Black men and women’s stories were also not in the media, simply because they also were not killed by White police officers. Murdered Black men and women, cisgender and transgender and queer, simply do not make the news very often, so I doubt that homophobia is what prevented these stories from being heard (racism would be a more likely culprit). The lack of national outcry over these murders is, sadly, tragically, not a surprise to me.

However, the author does raise a more subtle point, and one that I think *could* be addressed and ultimately “fixed:” in reporting the deaths of these women, they are referred to as men, both by the police and the media. As Chai Jindasurat of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) notes, “The harm of the media misgendering and victim-blaming is that is sends a message to the public that these homicides are not as series, and that somehow transgender people deserve it.” Police departments have claimed that they are legally obligated to use the gender on the victim’s drivers license in official statements. But why is this necessary, and what harm is this causing?

The harm:

1. Misgendering leads to inaccurate reporting of transgender attacks and hate crimes. When the gender identity of victims is not included in legal paperwork, this can lead to incorrect reporting of hate-motivated violence. According to the article linked above, the FBI only captured 10% of the attacks recorded by the NCAVP.

2. Misgendering is disrespectful to the victim and his or her family, who are already suffering enough. In this case, four women have been murdered. At least provide them with some dignity after death by using their preferred gender pronoun. It really isn’t that hard.

3. Homophobia is rampant, especially against transgender people. Mislabeling leads to victim-blaming and mockery of those who, again, deserve some dignity in death. While I’m not sure that proper gender pronouns would wholly eliminate this (I’m sure it wouldn’t, sadly), what it would do is demonstrate respect for the victim. And when others – particularly the media and police, all people in positions of authority – treat transgender men and women with respect, maybe the public will start to follow suit.

So what we can do: encourage the media and law enforcement to use a victim’s preferred gender pronoun when discussing his or her case. This humanizes the victim and shows him or her the respect he or she (or ze) deserves.

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