As violence against the LGBTQ community continues to increase in the U.S., one of the nation’s leading advocacy groups wants journalists to remember trans lives shouldn’t be reduced to a statistic.
The media watchdog organization GLAAD released a new report in which it urges news publications to shift the narrative on anti-LGBTQ hate crimes. In “More Than a Number,” Director of Transgender Media and Representation Nick Adams takes issue with the “deadliest year ever” trope in reporting on trans homicide rates.
Adams claims this framing “gives media outlets permission to ignore the epidemic of anti-transgender violence until the number has surpassed the previous ‘record,’ at which point it then becomes ‘newsworthy.’”
“Acts of violence against the trans community are horrific and pervasive, and should be covered regardless of the recorded number of deaths,” he says. “In tracking violence, there is nothing won and no goal is met when the victim count reaches a certain number, and framing it as such is insensitive to the seriousness of the issue.”
After GLAAD estimated that 26 transgender people were murdered in 2017, news outlets including Mother Jones, Fast Company, Salon, PinkNews, and Refinery29 fell into the alleged trap Adams claims is problematic. As the alarming rate of anti-trans killings has not abated in 2018, NewNowNext recently claimed this year would surpass 2017 as the “deadliest year ever.”
In covering violence against the wider LGBTQ community, INTO also relied on the framing in a January headline calling attention to recently released data. In January, the National Coalition for Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) tabulated that 52 queer, transgender, or HIV-affected people were killed in 2017.
These numbers are often cited as “historic.” But claiming any particular year is the “deadliest ever” for trans people is inaccurate, Adams alleges.
Because hate crimes against members of the trans community are so widely underreported, there’s simply no way to know with true accuracy how many people were killed over a 12-month period. In addition, trans homicide victims are frequently misgendered in police reports, meaning the public may be unaware of a deceased individual’s lived gender identity.
“As such, we can never be fully confident that the number of known transgender murder victims reflects the total number killed,” Adams concludes.
“More Than a Number” offers recommendations to reporters who want to cover trans homicides in a way that’s respectful, affirming, and honors the individual’s life. For instance, journalists should reach out to family and friends of the victim in order to present them as a three-dimensional human being.
“Nine times out of 10 people have a Facebook page, where you can get correct information about the person and nice photos that you can use,” says longtime trans blogger Monica Roberts in the report.
Others suggest finding ways that journalists can support local communities affected by discriminatory violence.
“Ask about what resources can be included in your reporting,” says LaLa Zannell, a lead organizer with the New York City Anti-Violence Project. “Is there a GoFundMe site to support the family? A vigil to honor the victim? A local organization that can support the community at this time?”
Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, says the report is another reminder that coverage of the trans community must evolve, just as societal understandings of transgender people have shifted over the past decade.
“We must evolve the ongoing national conversation around the fatal violence that transgender Americans face far too frequently and work together to report accurately and fairly when covering this epidemic,” Ellis claims in a statement. “When we reduce individual lives to a number, we dehumanize those who we have lost and fail to address the stories and humanity of victims whose trans identities have been erased following their death.”
Read the full report here.