Doubly Victimized: Reporting on Transgender Victims of Crime

The following guidelines will help you ensure that transgender victims of violent crimes are always treated respectfully and fairly. These guidelines apply to all stories that involve the transgender community, but are especially important when the person has been attacked or killed.

Transgender people, and particularly transgender women of color, are disproportionately affected by hate violence in our communities. Sadly, the tragedy of these incidents is often compounded by reporting that does not respect (or, sometimes, even exploits) the victim's gender identity.

There is still a lot of education that needs to be done regarding the lives of transgender people. Often, reporters telling the stories of transgender victims of violent crimes will be given incorrect or incomplete information from police, from witnesses, or even from family/friends of the victim. The media also has a long history of sensationalizing stories that involve transgender people, although thankfully this is less common now than it once was.

The following guidelines will help you ensure that transgender victims of violent crimes are always treated respectfully and fairly. These guidelines apply to all stories that involve the transgender community, but are especially important when the person has been attacked or killed.

PLEASE NOTE:

All of the following illustrations are based on a fictional example of a person who was named John Smith and was classified as male at birth, but who lived as a woman named Justine Smith at the time she was killed.

What does transgender mean?

An umbrella term (adj.) for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically. A person's medical history has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not they should be considered transgender.

For more information and terminology, check out our resources for covering transgender people in the media.

Using the word "transgender"

A person classified as male at birth but living as a woman is a transgender woman. A person classified as female at birth but living as a man is a transgender man.

Incorrect: Justine Smith, a transgender man, was 27 years old.
Correct: Justine Smith, a transgender woman, was 27 years old.

The word transgender is an adjective, and should never be used as a noun or turned into an adverb.

Incorrect: Justine Smith, a transgendered woman, was 27 years old.
Incorrect: Justine Smith, a transgender, was 27 years old.
Correct: Justine Smith, a transgender woman, was 27 years old.

Gender and Pronouns

The only important piece of information in identifying a victim's gender is how they currently identify or, if they were killed, how they identified at the time of the incident.  Always use the gender and pronoun that corresponds with the way the victim identifies/identified. If how the person identified is not known, use the pronoun consistent with how the individual lived publicly.

Incorrect: A man was found on Friday morning in his Brooklyn neighborhood.
Correct: A transgender woman was found on Friday morning in her Brooklyn neighborhood.

This holds true even if you have only been given the victim's birth name, and even if the only name you have for the victim does not match their self-identified gender. (also see NAMES section below)

Incorrect: The victim, John Smith, was found on Friday morning in his Brooklyn neighborhood.
Correct: The victim, who was identified by police as John Smith, was found on Friday morning in her Brooklyn neighborhood.
 

Should pronouns be skipped?

The short answer is no.

It is possible to write a piece without using pronouns, instead referring to a subject only by last name, or with plural pronouns like "they" or "them." This is marginally preferable to using incorrect pronouns. But it creates very awkward sentences, and conveys a high level of discomfort with referring to the victim as his or her self-identified gender. This is seen as disrespectful not just to the victim, but to the entire transgender community.

Incorrect: Smith was found Friday morning in the Brooklyn neighborhood he lived in.
Still Incorrect: Smith was found Friday morning in the Brooklyn neighborhood Smith lived in.
Correct: Smith was found Friday morning in the Brooklyn neighborhood she lived in.

Names

A transgender person's chosen name should be considered by reporters to be their real name, whether it has been legally changed or not. Often transgender people cannot afford a legal name change, or they live in a community where obtaining correct identification is difficult. All transgender people should be treated as though they have changed their name legally to their chosen name.

Incorrect: John Smith, who used the name Justine, was 27 years old.
Correct: Justine Smith was 27 years old.

Never put a person's chosen name in quotes. Treat their name the same way you would treat any other person's name.

Incorrect: "Justine" Smith was 27 years old.
Correct: Justine Smith was 27 years old.

If you do not know a transgender victim's chosen name, make the source for the name you are using clear.

Incorrect: The victim, John Smith, was found on Friday morning.
Correct: The victim, identified by police as John Smith, was found on Friday Morning.
 

If you get conflicting Information

Many transgender people are only able to live as their authentic gender some of the time. Some have only disclosed the fact that they are transgender to certain people. Often a victim's co-workers, neighbors, or even friends and family won't know that the person was transgender. In these cases, you should still default to the way a victim identified at the time of the incident.

If a source uses incorrect names or pronouns

Often, police or witnesses will use the wrong name or gender for the victim. When possible, paraphrase rather than quote directly, or quote elements of the statement that do not include this incorrect information.  If this is not possible, leave the quote as-is but make sure that you, as the journalist, use the correct information.

Incorrect: "It looks like Smith was coming out of a local bar when he was attacked," said Officer Jones.
Correct: Officer Jones said it appeared as though Smith was coming out of a local bar when she was attacked.
Correct: According to Officer Jones,  "It looks like Smith was coming out of a local bar" at the time she was attacked.

Things to avoid

Do not use language that implies the victim's identity was not "real," or that it was a costume, a disguise, or a false identity.

Incorrect: Justine Smith, whose real name was John Smith, was found on Friday morning.
Correct: Justine Smith, who was named John Smith at birth, was found on Friday morning.

Incorrect: The victim, John Smith, was dressed like a woman at the time of the attack.
Correct: The victim, identified by police as John Smith, was a transgender woman.

Incorrect: Police say the suspect attacked Smith after finding out he was actually a man.
Correct: Police say the suspect attacked Smith because she was transgender.

Do not mention or even hint at the victim's genitalia or history of surgical procedures under any circumstances.

Incorrect: Police say the suspect attacked the victim after discovering that Smith had a penis.
Incorrect: Police say the suspect attacked the victim after discovering that Smith was anatomically male.
Correct: Police say the suspect attacked Smith because she was transgender.

Do not overemphasize or exploit the victim's transgender status. Treat the victim the way you would treat any other victim, and treat their transgender status the way you would treat any other identifying characteristic, even if police suspect it was the motive for the crime.

Incorrect: Justine Smith was dressed in high heels, a short miniskirt, a low-cut top and a wig at the time she was killed. Her purse contained makeup and a feather boa.
Correct: (There is no "correct" version of this sentence. These details are insignificant to the story and disrespectful to the victim, and should be skipped entirely.)
 

Providing Context

The transgender community is one of the most marginalized and discriminated against communities in our society.  If a transgender victim was in a difficult or unfortunate life situation at the time of a violent crime, try to provide your audience with some context. It's also important to note that violence against transgender people disproportionately affects transgender women of color.


Example: Justine Smith was homeless at the time of her killing. Friends say she had been kicked out of her home for being transgender.


Example: Justine Smith was homeless at the time of her killing. Transgender advocates say that this is a problem faced by many transgender young people who are kicked out of their homes, and often end up on the street.


Example: Police say Justine Smith was working as a prostitute and suspect the attacker was one of her clients. According to transgender advocates, many transgender people, especially transgender women of color, face extreme discrimination in the workplace and might turn to illegal forms of employment as a last resort.


Example: The victim, Justine Smith, was found on Friday morning. She is believed to be the fourth transgender New Yorker to have been killed in the last year, all of them women of color.


Example: The victim was identified as Justine Smith by neighbors, but was identified as John Smith by police. Advocates say many transgender people are unable to legally change their names or obtain corrected identification documents.

More Information

GLAAD's Media Reference Guide

For additional information about discrimination and violence faced by the transgender community, please see "Injustice at Every Turn," a report issued by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

 

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