In a week’s time, the transgender community has been devastated by learning of five murders of trans women. The latest, on Aug. 15, occurred right here in Kansas City, where Tamara Dominguez was purposefully run over multiple times by an SUV and left for dead.
The tragedy of Tamara’s murder was compounded by local media who repeatedly misgendered her in their news reports. When questioned about their reports, most defended their wording by saying they were using information provided by the Kansas City Police Department. I spoke with an officer with the KCPD who expressed frustration that the media were blaming them.
True, in police reports, the law requires that official documents be used in the identification process. It is therefore understandable that the information about Tamara’s birth name and gender marker was included. However, the KCPD has had extensive LGBT sensitivity training and recognizes that gender identity and official IDs don’t always match. They did not use any pronouns in their reports and never called Tamara a man.
Many people, including myself, made requests to media outlets to update and correct their reports and sent them the link to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide on Transgender Issues (glaad.org/reference/transgender). Some replied by asking for help in confirming her identity. But others, most notably the Kansas City Star, seemed to double-down at first, with public editor Derek Donovan writing a column defending the Star’s reports and seemingly offering the upset community a lesson in cross-dressers and gender fluidity.
What Mr. Donovan fails to acknowledge is that “transgender” is an umbrella term that includes cross-dressers and gender-fluid people, making the guidelines applicable in this story. Having both a male and female name listed in police reports was a big clue that Tamara fell into the category of being transgender, and the safest and most professional way to report on her death would have been to recognize this fact and use gender-neutral pronouns from the beginning.
Transgender women of color are being murdered at an alarming rate. Many of those murders happen because a man claims to have been deceived or became upset at learning the woman was “really a man.” Media reports like the ones we saw calling Tamara a man in the headline contribute to the confusion about what being transgender is and perpetuate the notion that trans women are simply men wearing women’s clothes.
Careful reporting and use of the GLAAD guidelines are necessary when any information points to the possibility that a victim is transgender.
I hope Mr. Donovan and others will step back from their defensive posturing and recognize not only that they can improve their reporting moving forward, but also that doing so may help save lives.
Debi Jackson is the parent of a trans child and president of PFLAG-KC, a support and advocacy group for the entire LGBTQIA community.