Following an incredibly exploitative piece in the New York Times about the death of transgender woman Lorena Escalera in a fire this past weekend, and the newspaper’s subsequent refusal to acknowledge the true problems with their story, transgender advocates and allies have generated a powerful response asserting the immense hurt felt by so many over this coverage. On Facebook, Twitter, and several blogs, the community response has been overwhelming, with people sharing memories of Lorena, criticizing the offensive Times article, and commenting on the general lack of respect given to transgender lives, especially the lives of transgender women of color.
Hundreds of Facebook users have left comments on GLAAD’s blog posts about the story and on GLAAD’s Facebook page, calling the New York Times piece “disappointing” and “shameful,” and calling for a retraction. Performer and RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Carmen Carrera, who knew Lorena, commented on her own Facebook fan page, saying, “RIP to an amazing and happy person. I was lucky enough to know her and share the stage with her! I’m SO happy that GLAAD spoke out about the stupid NY Times article. It’s about time people realize it’s NOT OK to exploit transgender people. I really wish people would have a little bit more respect.” Similar sentiments have been expressed on Twitter regarding Lorena. Trans advocate Janet Mock has been a prominent voice tweeting about Lorena, and many more Twitter users are using the hashtag #LorenaEscalera to share their thoughts.
The blogosphere has also erupted with outrage and sadness about the way Lorena’s death has been reported on. Feministing called for readers to take action by contacting the New York Times and letting them know “you’re sick and tired of their victim blaming and transphobia.” Autumn Sandeen at Pam’s House Blend noted the Times’ unethical emphasis on details that had no relevance to Lorena’s death. Jennifer Finney Boylan, trans author and New York Times contributing writer spoke out, as did Colorlines and XoJane. At the Huffington Post’s Gay Voices section, transgender advocate and actress Laverne Cox wrote a moving piece honoring Lorena and discussing the broader issues faced by transgender women, saying, “I have struggled and continue to struggle to not only have dignity and to carve out a place in the world for myself but to treat myself as if my life matters. My life matters. Transgender lives matter. Lorena Escalera's life mattered. Rest in peace, Lorena.”
Other reports on Lorena’s death are proving that coverage could have happened much differently than the New York Times’ article and their defense of it suggests. Local news station New York One reported accurately and respectfully about a vigil held in Lorena’s memory, elevating the voices of those who love and miss her. New York news website DNA.info also covered the story, quoting members of the House of Xtravaganza who remember Lorena as a talented performer and a caring friend.
GLAAD thanks everyone who has helped raise awareness of the unfair treatment Lorena’s life received from the New York Times and asks individuals to continue spreading the message that such blatant disrespect for transgender people is unacceptable.