5 Transgender Victims Of Media Violence

ByJulia Phillips

Almost a week after joking about the shooting of a transgender woman, radio hosts Lex and Terry have finally announced that they’ll apologize for their comments. 22-year-old Coko McDonald was shot and robbed in April by a teenager who, investigators say, sent text messages within an hour of the attack that bragged about the assault and insulted the victim’s sexuality. McDonald’s assailant is being charged with a hate crime. On June 3, Lex and Terry, who are broadcast nationally by Clear Channel and Sirius XM, said, “There’s a teen that shot a tranny after finding out that it was a man ... I don’t blame him. I would have shot his ass too.”

Only a day after Lex and Terry’s comments, the National Coalition for Anti-Violence Programs released its findings that transgender people, especially transgender women like Coko McDonald, are disproportionately targeted for violence. More than half of U.S. homicide victims in anti-LGBT attacks last year are transgender women. Transgender people are 1.67 times more likely to be threatened and 3.32 times more likely to experience police violence than lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer cisgender people. In the face of this ongoing violence against transgender folks throughout the country and around the world, Lex and Terry’s professed support of shooting a transgender woman is horrifying — but, unfortunately, it’s not unusual. Transphobia is rampant in the media. For many trans victims of violence, including those listed here, the press is their most public attacker:

1. Cemia Acoff

Murder victim Acoff was reported missing in March. Her brutalized body was recovered from a pond almost a month later. The Cleveland Plain Dealer covered her murder with two articles: "Brutal slaying marks the end of Cleveland man's fight for acceptance" and "Oddly dressed man found in Olmsted Township pond identified". (After widespread criticism, the Plain Dealer removed the word “man” from both headlines.) In both, the Plain Dealer ignored the AP Stylebook’s guidelines for reporting on transgender people, which guides journalists to “use the pronoun preferred by the individuals ... If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.” Instead, the newspaper identified her as Carl Acoff, described her so-called odd dress (bras, a tank top, and a jacket), and noted that her legal documents listed her gender as male.

2. Claudia Charriez

After Charriez was allegedly battered and choked by her partner, the New York Post called her a “he-she” and a “pre-op transexual hooker.” While the Post has never been a paragon of journalistic integrity, GLAAD, which monitors the media for anti-LGBT slurs, formed in response to the Post’s defamatory coverage of the HIV/AIDS crisis–its insults of trans victims of violence are particularly heinous. It’s called transgender children “she-men” and characterized murder victim Camila Guzman as “transgender hooker ... Rodrigo Guzman.” The Post continues to ignore GLAAD’s requests for apologies or corrections.

3. Sonia Burgess

While covering the murder trial of Sonia Burgess, who was pushed under a train in 2010, the Telegraph quoted the prosecution as saying that “socially, the deceased lived as a woman and was known by friends and family as Sonia ... I intend to refer to the deceased throughout as of the female gender because that is the wish of her family.” Despite that, the newspaper identified her as Mr. Burgess and referred to her with male pronouns throughout its coverage. Misgendering like this is astoundingly commonplace in media coverage of transgender deaths. As a spokesperson from Trans Media Watch pointed out in response to the Telegraph’s coverage, “Using the wrong pronouns to describe a trans person may seem like a small thing but it has a big effect. It sends out a message of disrespect ... That the Telegraph should show such disrespect for a murder victim, whose loss is felt dearly by all who knew her, is particularly unfortunate.”

4. Cassidy Vickers

Cassidy Vickers was shot dead on the street in 2011. In its coverage of the shooting, the Los Angeles Times referred to Vickers using male pronouns, included a quote stating that she " wasn't really an attractive looking female," and characterized her reasons for “cross-dressing [as] 90% economic; 10% because he liked the attention." The newspaper also described the attendees of Vickers’s funeral as “men with women's breasts and clothes.” The LA Times later issued a correction for calling Cassidy Vickers “heshe.”

5. Lucy Meadows

Last December, teacher Lucy Meadows came out with the support of her school as a transgender woman. British newspapers jumped on the story; the Daily Mail ran a column on Meadows titled “He’s not only in the wrong body ... he’s in the wrong job” and claimed Meadows’s coming out would have a “devastating effect” on her pupils. Meadows had to file a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission to bar journalists from harassing her at her home or job. She killed herself within two months. At the inquest into her death, her coroner stated, “To you the press, I say shame, shame on all of you.”