Metro Weekly

Police and media outlets deadnamed and misgendered North Carolina trans murder victim

Research by HRC finds that three-quarters of trans or nonbinary crime victims are often misgendered.

Jenna Franks – Photo: Facebook.

Police and multiple media outlets in North Carolina repeatedly “deadnamed” and misgendered a North Carolina transgender woman who was murdered last month, prompting national LGBTQ advocacy groups to call them out for insensitivity towards the transgender community. 

The body of Jacksonville, N.C. resident Jenna Franks, 34, a transgender woman who was active with the Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center, was found by city workers who had been assigned to clear a ditch in Central Jacksonville and saw the body in a wooded area, adjacent to a creek and a local bike path.

According to NBC affiliate WITN, Jacksonville Police have said they are treating the case as a homicide, but have not released any additional information about her death due to the open investigation.

Those with information about Franks’ whereabouts or her death are asked to contact Detective Kymberly Schott at 910-938-6414 or, call the Crime Stoppers hotline at 910-938-3273, or send an anonymous text with the heading “TIP4CSJAX” and the pertinent information to 274637 (CRIMES). People submitting tips should refer to Case 21-00540.

There is no known motive for Franks’ murder, although activists noted at the time of her death that she was the fifth transgender person to be found dead in North Carolina since January, and at least the 10th trans or nonbinary person killed in the United States this year.

Last year, 44 trans people — the highest number ever documented — were killed in acts of violence.

Initial reporting on Franks’ murder misgendered her and referred to her by her birth name, which did not match her gender identity.

The Jacksonville Police Department has insisted that using it would help lead them to her killer, and news outlets that misgendered her cited the police department’s decision as justification, even though most major journalism stylebooks advise reporters and editors not to use a transgender person’s deadname.

But national LGBTQ advocates slammed the editorial decisions and reached out to local outlets to ask them to revise their reporting.

The national organizations also noted that most of Franks’ friends and associates wouldn’t have known her by her former name, and might be less inclined to come forward with pertinent information if they don’t recognize it. 

Several outlets eventually reported Franks’ correct name and gender identity, but failed to correct past stories that misgendered her, according to the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD. But other outlets continue to misgender her.

“It’s unfortunate that North Carolina’s local media has failed transgender North Carolinians at a time when accuracy and representation are needed the most,” Serena Sonoma, GLAAD communications coordinator and regional media lead for the South Region, said in a statement.

See also: California man charged with hate crime for attacking a transgender woman with his skateboard

The Human Rights Campaign also condemned the misgendering of Franks, calling it “an injustice compounding this tragedy.”

“Anti-transgender stigma is exacerbated by callous or disrespectful treatment by some in the media, law enforcement and elected offices,” HRC said in a statement, noting that past research it has done estimates that approximately three-quarters of all known trans or nonbinary victims were misgendered by the media, law enforcement, or both.

“At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in North Carolina are not explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. North Carolina also does not have a law that expressly addresses hate or bias crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” HRC continued.

“We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation at the local, state and federal levels, while also considering every possible way to make ending this violence a reality,” the organization concluded. “It is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, especially Black transgender women.

“The intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive, so we must all work together to cultivate acceptance, reject hate and end stigma for everyone in the trans and gender-nonconforming community.”

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