Fighting Biased Reporting After Tragedy
Like many of you, we’re still reeling from last week’s tragic killing of Lashai Mclean. We were then especially appalled when we reviewed The Washington Blade’s coverage of the vigil held in Lashai’s memory, in which the reporter suggests — based on no evidence other than location — that Lashai was engaging in sex work at the time of her death.
Since our founding, we have worked to combat this kind of stereotyping. Assumptions that trans women are sex workers fuel much of the systemic violence levelled against our communities. For example, the police often arrest trans women for solicitation based solely on this assumption. This is why the police’s “Prostitution Free Zones” effectively become Trans Profiling Zones. The Blade’s egregious speculation only affirms public perceptions of trans women of color as being sex workers, thus perpetuating the violence done under such assumptions.
Furthermore, we know from our own recent research that places where trans people engage in sex work are often the very same places where trans people build community. She may have been there to support friends or look out for someone else who was doing sex work, for example. Thus no real conclusions can be drawn what Lashai was doing at the time of her death based solely on her location. Having a record or having done sex work in the past doesn’t mean anything about what she was doing that night. Most importantly, it doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether she was working when she died, her murder is equally unjust and equally a tragedy.
It is important to discuss the realities and violence that trans sex workers face. Many within the DCTC collective have ourselves lived this reality. We can, and do, educate about sex work and push for change on that level. But while reporting about a tragedy is not the time. There are times to discuss violence against trans sex workers without publicly and non-consensually infringing on the privacy of one individual. Without concrete evidence as to what she was doing that night, it is unfair to her to be airing her criminal record after her death or making implications that simply can’t yet be verified.
Today we expressed our disappointment in a letter to The Blade’s editor, Kevin Naff, which you can read below. If you share our concerns, please make those known to him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 26, 2011
Editor, The Washington Blade
To the editor:
We write to express our outrage at Lou Chibbaro’s unfortunate exercise of journalistic license in his July 25 piece “Emotions run high at vigil for slain trans woman.” Despite having no evidence to support his claim, Mr. Chibbaro speculates that the late Lashai Mclean, who was brutally killed last week, was engaging in sex work at the time of her death, simply based upon the location of her murder and a vague statement made by Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. Brett Parson. Mr. Chibbaro’s baseless editorializing only serves to perpetuate damaging stereotypes about transgender women of color, and is a disservice to the Blade’s mission to provide real, verifiable news for our community.
The DC Trans Coalition’s ongoing Needs Assessment study recently found that areas where some trans people engage in sex work are also areas where many more trans people build community, socialize with friends, and provide support for their peers. We don’t know what Ms. Mclean was doing the night of her murder. We do know that her killing is a grave injustice, and that it exemplifies the severe threats to safety and well-being that trans people must overcome every day.
While it has not yet been established that Ms. Mclean’s murder was a hate crime, we should point out that a recent National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs study showed that trans people of color are twice as likely to be the victim of a hate crime as non-trans white people, and that 44% of all LGBT hate crimes are against trans women. In these circumstances, rather than concerning ourselves with what Ms. Mclean may have been doing to ensure her survival, we should focus on combating the extreme violence directed towards trans people in our city and throughout the country that all too often denies trans people their right to survive.
Vanessa Crowley & Jason A. Terry
DC Trans Coalition