Guest Post: Growing After Bias

Police investigate the hate crime. Pictured is the shattered front door to the Center.

Police investigate the hate crime. Pictured is the shattered front door to the Center.

This post was written by GLAAD's former Transgender Advocacy Fellow, Mik Kinkead.  Mik now works for the Long Island GLBT Community Center.

Recently the Long Island GLBT Community Center, home of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY), has been inundated with media requests. Reporters and camera operators from news stations as diverse as Newsday, WABC Eyewitness News, 1010 Wins and WNBCNews have appeared on our steps asking for footage of the Center. Calls have been flooding the office from The Associated Press, 365gay.com, and the blog Pam's House Blend.

The reason is a disheartening, but familiar one. On Monday morning staff members arrived at work to find the Long Island GLBT Community Center vandalized. The door to the Center was smashed in, and the van used to transport youth to and from programs was destroyed. The windows on the van had been broken, the tires slashed and the mirrors mangled.

For staff such as me, the attacks represented an affront not on personal property but on our individual and collective lives - the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Long Islanders. Our decision to alert the media through the help of GLAAD's National News and Media Field Strategy Teams was a direct result of our experience working with community members. We know that when we remain silent on the issues that matter to us, and when our issues go un-reported, that our lives are not seen as valid or important. By reporting these attacks and making the Center open to news crews we put our lives and our experiences in the spotlight and were able to frame the discussion.

In my former position as GLAAD's Transgender Advocacy Fellow, I was directly involved in the news coverage of the sixteen known murders of transgender people in the US during 2008. I can vividly recall pressuring media in Kentucky to cover the murder of Nakhia Williams, whose story went unreported for over a month. I can recall chasing down reporters across the nation to advocate for correct pronouns, correct names, and in-depth reporting of transgender people. Too often the physical attacks on members of our community are understood to be the price we pay for living openly. Too few reporters were willing to investigate the transphobia surrounding the murders.

I admit that I feel angry when I see the numerous publications that have referenced the attacks on our Center who did not report on the police brutality and eventual murder of Duanna Johnson, the murder of Lateisha Green days before the Transgender Day of Remembrance, or even the triumphs of our community such as Diego Sanchez being appointed legislative aide to Barney Frank.

My hope is that the staff of our Center and the excellent reporters we have encountered will make the correlation between what happened to our Center and what actually happens to our physical bodies tangible to viewers and readers. We can show that when the murders of people like Duanna or Lateisha go unreported or incorrectly reported we create a culture where bias incidents like this one are allowed to thrive.

As a media analyst, and as an advocate, I know that the presence of LGBT lives in the media leads to political action, self education, and policy changes - a presence we couldn't have accomplished without partnering with GLAAD. Already, we here at the Long Island GLBT Center have seen the effects of media presence. The quick reporting of Newsday, WNBC News, and WABC Eyewitness News sufficiently pressured the Suffolk County Police Commissioner and Suffolk County Executive, Steve Levy to make statements supporting the Long Island lesbian gay bisexual and transgender community. Only one day later Governor Paterson issued a statement calling these kinds of attacks "unacceptable" and sent the State Commissioner of Human Rights to the Center for a public forum with our community.

Without fair and accurate coverage of the bias crime in the news none of this would have been possible. Without inclusive media representation that saw our tragedy as a community tragedy we could not have received the attention from the Police Commissioner, our County Executive, or Governor Paterson.

Mik Kinkead is the Transgender Services Coordinator for the Long Island GLBT Community Center. The Center is connected to Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY) and Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders-Long Island (SAGE-LI) through the umbrella organization of the Long Island GLBT Services Network. All are located in Bay Shore, New York.