A disturbing spike in the number of documented murders of transgender women of color has garnered attention from national media outlets, but cable news networks continue to ignore the epidemic of violence facing the transgender community.
2015 has seen a disturbing spike in the number of recorded murders of transgender people, and especially transgender women of color, in the U.S. Though the trans community has historically been disproportionately targeted by violence, the murders of seven trans women of color in just the first two months of 2015 alarmed groups like the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which warned of an "epidemic of violence" against trans women.
That epidemic accelerated in July and August: at least five transgender women were killed between July 27 and August 15 alone. The murders got the attention of major national news outlets, including The New York Times and Time magazine. On ABC's Good Morning America, transgender actress Laverne Cox declared a "state of emergency" in the transgender community.
During the August 23 edition of MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry, guest host Janet Mock dedicated the end of the program to reading the names and telling the stories of the 17 trans women murder this year:
It's the second time Mock, herself a trans woman, has used her platform at MSNBC to elevate the issue of transphobic violence.
But beyond Mock's powerful MHP segments, and despite growing national attention, national cable news outlets have largely ignored the alarming spike in murders of trans women of color. Between July 27 and August 21, neither CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC aired a segment drawing attention to the murders:
The only real mentions of the murder of transgender women came in August on CNN and MSNBC, from guests like Alicia Garza and Elle Hearns, Black Lives Matter activists who have elevated and centered violence against transgender women of color as part of their work.
Cable news' silence on the murder of trans women mirrors the findings of a report in April that found that cable, broadcast, and Spanish-language national news networks had similarly ignored the murders of trans women of color.
The sidelining of violence against trans women of color isn't a symptom of cable news networks' broader unwillingness to discuss transgender issues. In the same time period, CNN and MSNBC covered Caitlyn Jenner's documentary series, the Obama administration's appointment of the first transgender White House staffer, and charges brought against Chelsea Manning in military prison. Even Fox News (disparagingly) covered stories about a transgender prison inmate and newly expanded gender identification options at the University of California.
Ignoring these murders has a real impact on the way that viewers come to know and understand the basic realities of what it means to live as a transgender woman of color in America today. It sends a message about which lives are newsworthy - Caitlyn Jenner's, Chelsea Manning's - and which lives aren't worth mourning. Coupled with the problem of media misgendering in local news reports about the deaths of trans women, this kind of erasure deeply distorts the public's understanding of the problem of transphobic violence.
Media Matters used Nexis and IQMedia to search CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC between July 27 and August 21, 2015 for the terms “transgender,” “trans,” “transsexual,” “cross-dress!,” “transphob!,” “gender identity,” “Tamara AND Dominguez,” “Elisha AND Walker,” “Kandis AND Capri,” “Amber AND Monroe,” “Schade AND Schuler.”
Media Matters tracked significant discussions of the recent murders of transgender women. “Significant discussion” was defined as at least two speakers in the segment talking about the topic to one another. Reruns, passing mentions, and teases for upcoming segments were excluded. Discussions after midnight but before the beginning of the next day's news cycle were excluded.