Almost two out of every three transgender murder victims in 2020 were misgendered, either by police, major U.S. news organizations, or both, according to a new analysis by Media Matters for America.
In total, 37 transgender, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming people were killed in the United States in 2020. Throughout the course of the year, there were 139 news articles, including 5 reprints, that misgendered or “deadnamed” 23 of those 37 — in violation of best practices set by major news organizations.
In total, 109 news outlets in 18 states and Puerto Rico deadnamed or misgendered victims of anti-trans violence, including national outlets like CNN and the Associated Press.
Of the 139 articles, only 18 were ever updated or corrected to reflect the victim’s gender identity or to remove language that misgendered them.
Perhaps even more concerning, many of the remaining 121 articles were subsequently updated to reflect the status of the investigation or note that the victim was transgender, but never removed misgendering language or corrected the deadnaming errors.
Among those victims who were misgendered are: Yampi Méndez Arocho, Monika Diamond, Johanna Metzger, Penélope Díaz Ramírez, Nina Pop, Helle Jae O’Regan, Jayne Thompson, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton, Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Bree Black, Marilyn “Monroe” Cazares, Dior H Ova, Queasha D Hardy, Summer Taylor, Lea Rayshon Daye, Kee Sam, Aerrion Burnett, Mia Green, Felycya Harris, and Sara Blackwood.
Media Matters noted in its analysis that much of the deadnaming and misgendering can be attributed by an over-reliance on police reports, which identify victims by their legal name and gender, as listed on government-issued identity documents.
In 18 of the 23 cases cited by Media Matters, the victim was misgendered by police in their reports prior to stories about the murders being published in local news outlets.
Unfortunately, relying on police identification can lead to reporting errors, as a majority of transgender individuals may not have accurate identity documents.
Many states or jurisdictions put up significant barriers to changing gender markers on identity documents, requiring court orders, doctor’s notes, charging fees, or, in some cases, requiring a person to undergo surgery before their gender marker can be updated.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, only 11% of trans people said they have their correct name and gender listed on all their identity documents.
Additionally, the long and troubled history of conflicts between police and transgender individuals in various cities throughout the nation can make police reporting unreliable when it comes to trans victims, as there may be an institutional bias against acknowledging a transgender person’s gender identity.
Some police departments may use anti-loitering laws and other pretexts to profile and arrest transgender women, particularly those of color, on the pretense that they were soliciting clients for sex in exchange for pay.
Transgender people also report being more likely to experience physical violence during their interactions with police. As such, reporters should be skeptical about any information gleaned from arrest reports.
The Trans Journalist Association, GLAAD, HRC, and other transgender advocates have previously and repeatedly called for reporters to identify trans victims of violence according to the name and gender by which they identified. That information can often be obtained through searches of social media accounts.
If police identify a victim as transgender but present conflicting information on their identity, Media Matters recommends they withhold a victim’s name until their correct identity can be determined.
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