Update (11/19/20): This piece has been updated to include Yunieski Carey Herrera, a Latina trans woman who was killed on November 17. It does not appear that initial reports from police or media misidentified her.
At least 139 reports have misgendered or deadnamed 23 of the 37 trans people who were reported killed in the U.S. so far in 2020. Misidentifying victims of anti-trans violence goes against best practices set by major news organizations, and it is often a result of media parroting police reports that solely identify victims by their legal name and gender.
Misgendering is when someone is referred to as a different gender than the one that person identifies with, and deadnaming is when someone calls a trans person by “the name they used before they transitioned” rather than the name they currently go by. Both are forms of harassment that unduly stigmatize trans people.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 37 trans or gender nonconforming people have been killed in the U.S. so far in 2020, marking the deadliest year on record. The majority of victims were trans people of color; two-thirds of the known victims were Black trans women. Trans people are disproportionately vulnerable to violence due to discriminatory societal factors such as heightened barriers to accessing health care, stable housing, and jobs. The rates of anti-trans attacks in the U.S. have become so grave that in 2019, the American Medical Association called it an “epidemic of violence against the transgender community.”
The 23 victims of anti-trans violence who media deadnamed or misgendered so far in 2020 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 identified 139 articles from 109 outlets that misidentified victims, the vast majority of which have not been updated
Over the course of the year, Media Matters monitored media coverage of anti-trans violence and recorded news articles that misidentified slain trans people. We archived articles on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to record the misidentification and discern whether or not articles had been updated to include a victim’s correct name and gender. Our data does not represent a comprehensive sample of every article that misidentified victims in 2020, as some outlets may have updated reporting before we were able to identify the error.
We found that media outlets misidentified victims in at least 139 news articles, including 5 reprints. Only 18 of those articles have been updated to reflect the victim’s correct identity and to remove language that deadnamed or misgendered them. There are at least 121 articles that still misidentify victims as of this piece’s publication. Notably, many articles were updated to reflect the status of the investigation or to note the victim was transgender but did not actually remove language that misidentified them. In one example, The Augusta Chronicle updated a report on the killing of Felycya Harris to correct the name of the park where her body was found but failed to correct her name and gender.
In total, 109 news outlets in 18 states and Puerto Rico deadnamed or misgendered victims of anti-trans violence, representing nearly every state where a trans person was killed in 2020. This includes notable national media outlets like CNN and the Associated Press and 14 of the top 50 U.S. newspapers. These newspapers are:
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Dallas Morning News, The Denver Post, Houston Chronicle, The Indianapolis Star, New York Daily News, New York Post, The New York Times, San Antonio Express-News, The Seattle Times, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), and Sun Sentinel (South Florida).
Some of these outlets, including The Seattle Times, The Dallas Morning News, and Star Tribune, updated their reporting to remove misidentification. The Dallas Morning News was the only outlet to include a note along with its update.
Reporters often misidentify victims because police do
Media coverage of anti-trans violence typically identifies victims based on the name and gender provided by local law enforcement. Police often misidentify trans people by exclusively referring to them by what is listed on their government-issued identity documents. Initial reports from law enforcement officials misgendered or deadnamed at least 18 of the 23 slain trans people who were misidentified in news reports in 2020.
However, members of the trans community face structural barriers when updating their identity documents to reflect their name and gender. 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.
Law enforcement has a long-standing history of assaulting and abusing members of the trans community. A 2013 report by the Anti-Violence Project found that “transgender people were 7 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police compared to cisgender survivors and victims.” Police also disproportionately use anti-loitering laws and other pretexts to profile and arrest trans women of color for allegedly engaging in sex work based simply on their clothing or for being in possession of condoms.
Reporters covering anti-trans violence should thus approach police reports with skepticism and always confirm a trans person’s identity through self-identification. As the Trans Journalist Association, GLAAD, HRC, and trans advocates have repeatedly stressed, the media should refer to a trans person solely by the name and pronouns they most recently used in life.
Reporters can confirm a slain trans person’s identity through self-identification on social media or elsewhere, the person’s loved ones, and the local trans community. If police reports identify a victim as transgender but appear to present conflicting information on their identity, outlets should consider withholding a victim’s name in the interest of privacy until their correct name can be ascertained.
The Trans Journalists Association’s style guide also writes:
A friend, family member, or the police may misgender or deadname your source. Do not use that quote in your story without a correction. Use brackets to replace the incorrect information with the correct information for text stories. For video or audio stories, reporters should find another clip or write around the deadnaming or misgendering. If this is not possible, consider not using this person as a source.
When a victim’s family or other members of the community notify reporters of a person’s correct name and gender, news outlets should remove and update all incorrect references to a person’s identity and include an update or editor’s note explaining what changes have been made.