Most newspapers leave the dehumanization of transgender people to the trolls in the online comments. But not Cleveland’s Plain Dealer. They bring the sewage right to the surface.
Their article about the discovery of the body of a brutally murdered 20 year old African-American woman, Cemia Acoff, begins with the title “Oddly dressed body found in Olmsted Township pond identified”, and goes downhill from there. Here’s an excerpt:
Acoff had been stabbed, tied with a piece of rope attached to a block of concrete and dumped into a pond on MacKenzie Road north of Cook Road.
The body was clad in a red Betty Boop tank top, three black bras on top of one another, and a light black hooded jacket. It was naked from the waist down, police said at the time. The rope was tied from the back and also attached to a steel pipe.
Acoff had identified himself as a woman to to RTA officials, according to records.
Police said after they contacted area law enforcement for help identifying the body, Cleveland detectives told them they had a missing person matching its description.
The journalist knew that Acoff was a trans woman because he reported that fact, yet he chose to not only mis-gender her, but he refers to her body as an “it”. Corpses are generally referred to in the press as male or female, depending on the apparent anatomy or the determination made in the source police report.
Even mis-gendering the body would have been better than applying the dehumanizing “it”.
Violence against transgender people is at epidemic levels in the United States, with transgender African-Americans one of the hardest-hit subpopulations. Pieces of dehumanizing garbage like these articles in the Plain Dealer (here and here) or this article at Fox 8 Cleveland only feed the flames of hatred and abuse.
The Plain Dealer and Fox 8 need to print public apologies, then hire a transgender journalist or editor.
Read more about the staggering levels of violence and discrimination experienced by transgender Americans here: Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey
GLAAD and local advocates addressing horrific coverage of transgender murder victim
GLAAD, Equality Ohio, TransOhio and Cleveland’s LGBT Community Center are working to address anti-transgender local coverage of the story of a Cleveland transgender woman, Cemia Acoff, who was found dead earlier this month.
Throughout the day we have been in touch with all three local organizations and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the source of two highly problematic stories, currently titled “Brutal slaying marks the end of Cleveland man’s fight for acceptance” and “Oddly dressed body found in Olmsted Township pond identified” (The latter had been previously said “Oddly dressed man.”)
As of 3:05 PM, the Plain Dealer has updated its two stories to remove pronouns (except in the case of that one headline) and a few of the more sensationalized aspects of the stories. However, many problems remain.
- Describing Acoff as “oddly dressed” is incredibly insulting.
- Her murder did not “end her fight for acceptance,” it ended her life. Period.
- There is no need to describe what she was wearing at the time of her murder; she had already been identified at the start of both stories, describing her wardrobe only trivializes her murder.
- Acoff’s criminal record is almost certainly irrelevant to the story, especially when provided without any context concerning the trans community and law enforcement.
- And removing pronouns doesn’t fix much. Yes, the stories are no longer factually incorrect, but this tact still shows an unwillingness to respect the victim’s gender identity and accept her as female.
The truth is, when someone like Cemia appears to identify as female sometimes and male other times, it’s because it’s still socially unacceptable (and often dangerous) to be transgender. The fact that some people in Acoff’s life didn’t know she sometimes identified as female, and the fact that her legal identification might not have reflected her gender identity, doesn’t change the fact that she was a transgender woman.
We shared with the Cleveland Plain Dealer our guide to reporting on transgender victims of crime, and have informed them of the issues that still remain with those two stories. We have also asked the Cleveland Plain Dealer to meet with local transgender advocates and community members, to better understand the sensitivity that was missing from its reporting, the way both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times did following similarly insensitive stories.
We have not gotten a response yet, but we are hopeful, based on the paper’s willingness to hear the community’s concerns throughout the day and at least address some of them, that they will take take this opportunity to raise their own awareness of the transgender members of the community that they serve.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer is also not the only outlet with troubling coverage of this murder, and GLAAD is in the process of reaching out to several other outlets to hopefully inform their coverage of this story, including the Associated Press which violated its own style guide by referring to Cemia as male.
Thank you to all of you who have alerted us to these incidents either by reporting through our website or on social media. Please continue to do so if you see any future coverage with similar issues.
We will provide updates as they become available, including information on any rallies or vigils being held.