At 4 AM on Sunday morning a transgender woman was held against a cement curb in Queens and bludgeoned. According to statements released by local transgender activists, the woman is in critical condition at Elmhurst Hospital with brain damage from the assault. CBS New York reported her first name as Kathy. The attack occurred near Roosevelt Avenue in Queens where, as CBS notes, local trans women frequently gather and violence is commonplace. A rally against trans violence was held Tuesday evening near the victim’s home, at the intersection of 97th Place and 93rd Street in Queens.
When news first broke of this tragedy on Monday, media outlets covering the incident originally released misinformation with transphobic headlines, including Newsday, ABC7, NY Daily News, amNewYork, New Jersey Herald, and the Washington Times. Most of these stories were aggregated from an Associated Press article with the headline: “NYPD: Cross-dressing man attacked in Jackson Heights, Queens.”
In its article, NY Daily News used the headline “Crossdressing Queens man brutally attacked,” describing the victim as a “man [who] sometimes dresses as a woman [and] goes by the name ‘Kathy.'”
Dani Heffernan is the Senior Strategist in the Transgender Media Program at GLAAD. As a media advocacy organization, part of GLAAD’s job is to monitor the way that transgender news is covered. They contact news outlets to correct misgendering and other transphobic coverage so often they’ve written a guide called, Doubly Victimized: Reporting on Transgender Victims of Crime. It explains the way the news victimizes trans people who were just victimized, and explains how these incidents should be covered in the press. In the wake of transphobic media coverage of the Queens woman’s assault, Heffernan began contacting media outlets in attempt to get their coverage altered.
“With this story, I reached out to several outlets, as did many other trans people and advocates,” she says. Heffernan shared GLAAD’s guide, directed publications to media coverage that identified Kathy as a transgender woman, and referred them to the Latino justice organization Make the Road New York, and the Anti-Violence Project. “I also contacted the NYPD LGBT Liaison Unit, but I haven’t received a response at this time.”
There are other ways to describe someone without making an assumption about their gender until you have more information. ‘Man dressed as a woman’ is an unacceptable default.
Heffernan succeeded in getting ABC7 Eyewitness News to amend their coverage. Their piece now refers to the victim as a transgender woman. amNewYork also altered their coverage, issuing a correction: “amNewYork could not independently confirm the victim’s gender before Tuesday when this article was first published. The story and headline have been updated accordingly.” At the time of publication, none of the other media outlets mentioned in this article have updated their stories.
“The media frequently misgenders transgender people, usually transgender women of color, who are victims or survivors of violence,” Heffernan explains. Part of the problem comes back to the way that law enforcement reports on the transgender community. “Several media outlets that I reached out to about their coverage of this story told me that they identified the survivor’s gender the way that they did based on information they received from the police.” But there’s a lack of continuity across the board, Heffernan says. For example, there are media outlets that refer to Kathy as a transgender woman, while still citing police reports. “It’s hard to get reporters to change their stories when there’s conflicting information, but there are other ways to describe someone without making an assumption about their gender until you have more information. ‘Man dressed as a woman’ is an unacceptable default.”
Jennifer Lopez is the Executive Director of Everything Transgender in NYC (ETNYC), a nonprofit organization that provides resources for the disenfranchised trans community in New York. “We work on underlying issues that cause the murders of transgender people, such as poverty which leads to sex work for many transgender women. Our core services are education, employment, suicide, homelessness, and family rejection,” Lopez wrote in an email to Broadly. She states she was disheartened to see transphobic media coverage in the wake of the violence in Queens, underscoring the danger of discrimination in the media. News outlets have far-reaching platforms and are thought of as the distributors of accurate, vetted facts. Lopez explains that discriminatory content can incite further violence against trans people.
She helped organize the rally held Tuesday night. “We will not stand for violence. We will not stand for people calling us ‘men in women’s clothing,’ and we can mobilize quickly to bring awareness.” She says that Roosevelt Avenue, where Kathy was attacked, “is an area that a lot of trans people live and support one another.” Because there are so many trans people living in that area, there is an increased level of attention on the community there, which makes the women there easy targets for discrimination and violence.
“We are at the end of a year where we saw the highest number of trans murders on record. Trans violence, at large, has to come to an end.”
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