GLAAD and the Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center Urge Changes to Coverage for More Accurate and Respectful Reporting of the Death of Jenna Franks

Local media outlets in North Carolina including The Jacksonville Daily News and CBS-affiliate WNCT-TV in Greenville, North Carolina, repeatedly and knowingly misgendered and deadnamed 34-year-old Jenna Franks, a transgender woman who was found dead in Jacksonville, North Carolina, last Wednesday. 

These local media outlets failed to revise their initial reporting when contacted by local LGBTQ+ organizations including Equality North Carolina, Campaign for Southern Equality, GLAAD, and The Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center about the practice, called deadnaming, of using a trans person’s birth name without their permission.

“Jenna Franks lived in Jacksonville North Carolina. She was loved by many people in Jacksonville. She was also a transgender woman. I know these things because Jenna was a client of the Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center, one of 8 transgender women found dead so far, this year,” Dennis Biancuzzo, Director of Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center told GLAAD. 

“But the first thing reported about her by local media was the one thing I never wanted to hear: the deadname she was assigned at birth.”

Revealing a transgender person’s birth name without their explicit permission, a practice called “deadnaming,” is an invasion of privacy that undermines authentic identity, as does using pronouns or gendering that don’t reflect that identity. GLAAD host’s a media reference guide for journalists that explains why this practice is offensive to trans people, in addition to our report, Doubly Victimized: Reporting on Transgender Victims of Crime

For transgender people, the relationships to their names are complicated, to say the least. What they are called has power, and hearing a blatantly masculine or feminine name applied to you when you’re trying to realign your gender in a different direction can be a source of profound, dysphoria-inducing anxiety. Hearing or seeing one’s old name can induce a visceral sense of terror that no matter how much progress one makes in their transition, the person they used to be (or pretended to be) is still there.

“It’s unfortunate that North Carolina’s local media has failed transgender North Carolinians at a time when accuracy and representation are needed the most,” said Serena Sonoma, GLAAD’s Communications Coordinator and Regional Media Lead for the U.S. south. “What local media outlets will need to realize is that choosing not to respect trans identities opens the community up to discrimination, and potentially more violence. When we correctly identify trans people, we respect their authentic selves and allow space for nuanced discussions about the issues currently facing the community.” 

According to those who knew Jenna Franks, she was a homeless trans individual. Sonoma believes that the media should not only report on Frank’s life and identity accurately but also address the high rates of job and housing insecurity in the trans community, realities that put them at higher risk of threats to their emotional and physical well-being. 

“It starts by reporting on trans people accurately, with names and pronouns that reflect their authentic identity,” she said.