GLAAD today received many incident reports regarding a story that appeared in the Miami Herald, about an arrest made for the 2011 murder of a transgender woman. Most of the article was spent discussing the crime and the search for Rene Hidalgo Hernandez's killer, but some of it was used to describe the victim. This section of the article seemed to many in the community to be exploitative:
Investigators say they learned from friends and neighbors that Hidalgo was a transgender prostitute who wore women’s clothing and underwear and had undergone hormone therapy but not genital reconstructive surgery. Hidalgo “would entertain sex partners four to six times a day in exchange for cash, marijuana or for personal enjoyment and would sometimes pick up homeless men for this purpose,” according to a warrant filed by Detective Oldy Ochoa.
Ochoa said Hidalgo’s numerous visitors, the violence of the crime and her sexual orientation made the investigation complex. Among his concerns: whether the murder was a hate crime.
During a discussion with GLAAD, Herald editors said that because of the nature of this particular crime and investigation, much of this was relevant to the story. But because the media has a long history of exploiting the transgender community with salacious details, even when information like this might be considered relevant to the story, unless it is presented extremely carefully, it seems like another case of the media dehumanizing transgender people.
Herald editors acknowledged that the information could have been presented in a way that was more sensitive to the fact that the trans community is often exploited by the media, by the inclusion of superfluous details.
For example, the underwear could simply have been described as underwear that "did not belong to the victim." Does the audience need to know that the intended gender of the discovered underwear was what tipped police off to the fact that the underwear did not belong to the victim?
The fact that Hidalgo had not undergone sex reassignment surgery may be what links her killing to the murder of another transgender woman in the area, but wouldn't that point have just as easily been made by simply describing both of the victims as transgender?
The Miami Herald also missed an opportunity to educate the audience about why some transgender people - especially women of color – turn to sex work. Granted, I knew what words to search for, but this took me less than three minutes to google and write:
Advocates at the National Center for Transgender Equality say most transgender people face workplace discrimination, which is "experienced at even higher rates by transgender people of color" and can “lead many to become involved in underground economies—such as sex and drug work—in order to survive.”
This information would give an audience more context, which is absolutely crucial in educating people about the transgender community.
The Herald is correcting their mis-use of the term "sexual orientation" (instead of "gender identity") and editors said that future stories involving the transgender community will be handled more sensitively.
On this, the Transgender Day of Remembrance, it is so important that we impress upon the media the role they play in educating Americans about transgender people. While around three-quarters of Americans now know someone who is gay, lesbian or bi, fewer than 10% personally know someone who is trans. This means the rest of America gets all of their information about the transgender community through the media. And sadly, far too many news stories that involve transgender people are about someone having been murdered. It is absolutely imperative that the news media tell those stories responsibly, respectfully, and sensitively.
That's why today we also released a resource guide for journalists covering violence against the transgender community. These guidelines apply to every story that involves the transgender community, but are especially important when a transgender person has been the victim of violence.