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Samantha

A call to the media

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A year ago today, a mutual friend of mine was killed while walking down a street in the suburbs of Seattle. She was 30 years old and a fantastic person, according to my friends who knew her.

 

Unfortunately, in death, she was erased. That's because Natalie Nguyen was transgender. Her parents deadnamed her on her headstone. And local media initially reported the death of a man that night in Federal Way, Washington.

 

I don't think the handling of a news story got my blood boiling quite in the way that KIRO's original report did.

 

If you go there now, you might notice the unusual correction at the bottom of this otherwise unremarkable-looking article. “Editor's Note: Police originally told KIRO 7 the victim was a man, but several friends of the victim contacted KIRO 7 to tell us the victim is a woman.”

 

In this case, KIRO wasn't at fault. But police certainly were. Natalie’s name had been updated on her ID and Social Security card, but her gender marker had not yet been changed. Friends of the victim had given statements to the police; they had to know she was trans. It was simply inexcusable.

 

Earlier this year in Phoenix, there was an unusual story in which an 81-year-old grandmother with dementia was killed by their 30-year-old grandchild, named Brandon Smith. Smith's mugshot, in which she clearly presents as female, should have been enough to raise the attention of editors and maybe suggest that normal male pronouns were not appropriate. Her own Facebook uses she/her. However, no major news outlet in Phoenix did, perhaps because of the typically male name.

 

News writers broke into two camps with this story. Three television stations happily used he/him pronouns. Two more outlets skirted with they/their, though the Arizona Republic made the curious decision to call Brandon her “biological grandson” in the article’s first sentence.

 

One of the TV stations (KPHO/KTVK, since it’s somehow gone from the original site) ran a quote from a neighbor that should have dissuaded them from using he/him:

 

"She was screaming, she was frightened," said Whitehair. "She just kept yelling, like, 'Grandma's gone, grandma's gone!'”

 

Nobody else but Brandon Smith could be the “she”. Perhaps she planned on keeping that name or had not yet had the chance or means to change it. That's up for debate. What's not are her pronouns.

 

Again, however, local police were right there in misgendering Brandon, issuing a press release titled “Suspect Arrested After Killing His Grandmother”. The misgendering encouraged hateful comments on Brandon's appearance on Facebook, too. Someone should have said something, if not at the police department then at least a news editor.

 

In February, it took five days for the record to be corrected after 36-year-old Celine Walker, a trans woman of color, was murdered in Jacksonville, Florida. And she's not alone. According to GLAAD statistics from earlier this year, a whopping 85 percent of trans homicide victims are misgendered.

 

Radio and television newsrooms need to understand that the information law enforcement has at their disposal is often biological, conflicting with the lived experience of trans and nonbinary people. When they have died, they can't speak for themselves. At times their families are still in denial. It falls to us to speak up for them and for those we don't know. Correct gender and pronouns should not be a luxury. They should be a basic component of dignity and treating people with respect. And that applies to law enforcement agencies and media outlets. That means sensitivity training for employees who might not be familiar with the lay of the land. It means a concerted effort to push back against law enforcement agencies that disseminate incorrect information. It means adopting policies to at least find a social media presence if there are any doubts as to what pronouns to use or what name they went by. As trans and nonbinary people become more visible across the country, newsrooms need to have the tools to resolve situations like the ones presented here in a respectful manner.

 

I'm here because Natalie Nguyen deserves to rest in power. She deserves to be remembered as she lived. And her story exposed to me how between police and the media, there is a gaping lack of sensitivity and knowledge in handling the stories of trans and gender nonconforming people. They're your viewers too, you know.

 

———

 

One more thing.

 

At Natalie’s funeral and on her death certificate, her parents deadnamed her. They put makeup on her face to make her look more masculine and hid her green hair behind a hat.

 

When local police and media make the mistakes mentioned above, they are committing the same erasure, the same denial of who these people are. We are already dealing with a federal government that seems committed to erase us. We don’t need the police and news organizations to play along with that.

 

———

 

If you’re a news organization and you’re looking for resources on this topic, I recommend the following:

 

GLAAD’s Doubly Victimized and More than a Number reports include information on best practices to handle crime situations and reporting involving trans people.

 

The AP Stylebook encourages the use of preferred names and pronouns (and if that cannot be ascertained, pronouns for the gender by which they live publicly — yes, you can even use they/them in this case).

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A year ago today, a mutual friend of mine was killed while walking down a street in the suburbs of Seattle. She was 30 years old and a fantastic person, according to my friends who knew her.

 

Unfortunately, in death, she was erased. That's because Natalie Nguyen was transgender. Her parents deadnamed her on her headstone. And local media initially reported the death of a man that night in Federal Way, Washington.

 

I don't think the handling of a news story got my blood boiling quite in the way that KIRO's original report did.

 

If you go there now, you might notice the unusual correction at the bottom of this otherwise unremarkable-looking article. “Editor's Note: Police originally told KIRO 7 the victim was a man, but several friends of the victim contacted KIRO 7 to tell us the victim is a woman.”

 

In this case, KIRO wasn't at fault. But police certainly were. Natalie’s name had been updated on her ID and Social Security card, but her gender marker had not yet been changed. Friends of the victim had given statements to the police; they had to know she was trans. It was simply inexcusable.

 

Earlier this year in Phoenix, there was an unusual story in which an 81-year-old grandmother with dementia was killed by their 30-year-old grandchild, named Brandon Smith. Smith's mugshot, in which she clearly presents as female, should have been enough to raise the attention of editors and maybe suggest that normal male pronouns were not appropriate. Her own Facebook uses she/her. However, no major news outlet in Phoenix did, perhaps because of the typically male name.

 

News writers broke into two camps with this story. Three television stations happily used he/him pronouns. Two more outlets skirted with they/their, though the Arizona Republic made the curious decision to call Brandon her “biological grandson” in the article’s first sentence.

 

One of the TV stations (KPHO/KTVK, since it’s somehow gone from the original site) ran a quote from a neighbor that should have dissuaded them from using he/him:

 

"She was screaming, she was frightened," said Whitehair. "She just kept yelling, like, 'Grandma's gone, grandma's gone!'”

 

Nobody else but Brandon Smith could be the “she”. Perhaps she planned on keeping that name or had not yet had the chance or means to change it. That's up for debate. What's not are her pronouns.

 

Again, however, local police were right there in misgendering Brandon, issuing a press release titled “Suspect Arrested After Killing His Grandmother”. The misgendering encouraged hateful comments on Brandon's appearance on Facebook, too. Someone should have said something, if not at the police department then at least a news editor.

 

In February, it took five days for the record to be corrected after 36-year-old Celine Walker, a trans woman of color, was murdered in Jacksonville, Florida. And she's not alone. According to GLAAD statistics from earlier this year, a whopping 85 percent of trans homicide victims are misgendered.

 

Radio and television newsrooms need to understand that the information law enforcement has at their disposal is often biological, conflicting with the lived experience of trans and nonbinary people. When they have died, they can't speak for themselves. At times their families are still in denial. It falls to us to speak up for them and for those we don't know. Correct gender and pronouns should not be a luxury. They should be a basic component of dignity and treating people with respect. And that applies to law enforcement agencies and media outlets. That means sensitivity training for employees who might not be familiar with the lay of the land. It means a concerted effort to push back against law enforcement agencies that disseminate incorrect information. It means adopting policies to at least find a social media presence if there are any doubts as to what pronouns to use or what name they went by. As trans and nonbinary people become more visible across the country, newsrooms need to have the tools to resolve situations like the ones presented here in a respectful manner.

 

I'm here because Natalie Nguyen deserves to rest in power. She deserves to be remembered as she lived. And her story exposed to me how between police and the media, there is a gaping lack of sensitivity and knowledge in handling the stories of trans and gender nonconforming people. They're your viewers too, you know.

 

———

 

One more thing.

 

At Natalie’s funeral and on her death certificate, her parents deadnamed her. They put makeup on her face to make her look more masculine and hid her green hair behind a hat.

 

When local police and media make the mistakes mentioned above, they are committing the same erasure, the same denial of who these people are. We are already dealing with a federal government that seems committed to erase us. We don’t need the police and news organizations to play along with that.

 

———

 

If you’re a news organization and you’re looking for resources on this topic, I recommend the following:

 

GLAAD’s Doubly Victimized and More than a Number reports include information on best practices to handle crime situations and reporting involving trans people.

 

The AP Stylebook encourages the use of preferred names and pronouns (and if that cannot be ascertained, pronouns for the gender by which they live publicly — yes, you can even use they/them in this case).

 

Condolences.

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It's one thing to try to correct people after the fact, but it's another thing to educate before the fact.

You really should consider a regular presentation to the students of the Cronkite Journalism program at Arizona State University.

 

Local T-girls and guys can make a huge impact to the students who will be a very interested in this topic. Put a panel of folks together and have a presentation for the future journos.

 

Be part of the curriculum ,

You can make this stuff interesting and entertaining at the same time.

 

I was involved in something similar a few years ago at few local colleges and we had a great time with the students.

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Sorry for your loss.

 

As someone who works in a newsroom and reports on the identities of those who died, determining the preferred gender identity of a decedent is not always that practical.

 

We have what the police tell us at our disposal, yes, but we do not have that person's entire background.

 

Some newsrooms will try to contact family and friends, maybe poke around on Facebook, but that seems wrong on many levels.

 

The last thing any victim's family needs is nosy reporters asking about genders and or their histories in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

 

Corrections can be made, but how do reporters know that the information is factual? (I.E. That the person contacting them actually knew the victim.)

 

We're journalists that report on facts and the facts that we can readily receive are from officials that often (almost always) give the biological sex.

 

This isn't a snap of the finger change and in the age of ever-smaller newsrooms, producers and reporters have less and less time to dig into these kinds of things for a 30 second reader or a quick minute live shot.

 

Should it change? Yes. But with anything in this day and age, it's an uphill battle.

Edited by Big Country News
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Sorry for your loss.

 

As someone who works in a newsroom and reports on the identities of those who died, determining the preferred gender identity of a decedent is not always that practical.

 

We have what the police tell us at our disposal, yes, but we do not have that person's entire background.

 

Some newsrooms will try to contact family and friends, maybe poke around on Facebook, but that seems wrong on many levels.

 

The last thing any victim's family needs is nosy reporters asking about genders and or their histories in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

 

Corrections can be made, but how do reporters know that the information is factual? (I.E. That the person contacting them actually knew the victim.)

 

We're journalists that report on facts and the facts that we can readily receive are from officials that often (almost always) give the biological sex.

 

This isn't a snap of the finger change and in the age of ever-smaller newsrooms, producers and reporters have less and less time to dig into these kinds of things for a 30 second reader or a quick minute live shot.

 

Should it change? Yes. But with anything in this day and age, it's an uphill battle.

I’m sure there are legal ramifications too of reporting something that’s not on paper, hence why it’s reported the way it is.

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The writer of the Village Voice story over Brandon Teena's murder [URL='https://www.villagevoice.com/2018/06/20/how-i-broke-and-botched-the-brandon-teena-story/']recently made a public apology[/URL] over assumptions and prejudices she had, both subtle and overt, about transgender people. And that story, for all of its' faults, wound up becoming a very influential piece of writing in the LGBTQ community, the movie "[URL='https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/boys-dont-cry-1999']Boys Don't Cry[/URL]" was heavily inspired by that story. (For the record, there is [URL='https://medium.com/@johannkoehle/how-donna-minkowitz-nailed-and-botched-her-apology-1073feb1a711']a fascinating critique of that apology[/URL] by Han Koehle that's worth reading.) @Ramona ... I'm so sorry </3 Edited by Guest

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BigCountryNews is spot on and said most of what I was going to say. Basically, most stories that involve a trans person will either have them as a victim or suspect in a crime, and most crime info comes from police. Police department policies and awareness of the issue will then dictate what they put in a press release. That is where I would focus efforts to try to get change.

 

Separately, journalists can try to take the advice of GLAAD on reporting stories involving trans people, including positive stories, but I think more substantial influence on reporting would come from newsroom managers providing education and guidelines to their staff on this and similar topics.

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