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Brutal Murder Of Transgender Woman Prompts News Organizations To Blame ‘Male’ Victim

by David Badash on April 30, 2013

in Discrimination,News

The brutal murder of a transgender woman has prompted almost every news organization that reported on the murder to blame the victim, publish her arrest record, and repeatedly label her as a man. The murder was a heinous crime, the misgender identification by news organizations who have not taken the time to learn how to report on issues related to transgender people is offensive.

Also very disturbing is the fact that no report would lead readers to believe the police are working diligently to find the murderer. Not one report stated police are asking for assistance or seeking help in finding her killer.

The victim, Cemia Acoff, whom every outlet incorrectly named “Carl Acoff,” was a 20-year old transgender woman found brutally murdered — her body dumped into a pond in a Cleveland, Ohio suburb after having been stabbed, tied with rope, and “attached to a block of concrete,” reports state.

But all the reports identify Acoff as a man or male, ignore the AP Style book’s and GLAAD’s information on how to report on transgender crime victims, and perhaps worst of all, treat the victim as a criminal, dehumanize her, and make inappropriate or offensive references to her and her body. One report even referred to her body as “it.”

News reports from local ABC affiliate, local Fox affiliate Fox 8, an Associated Press (AP) report in the Times Leader and elsewhere, a report as far away as Tucson, Arizona’s KOLD/KMSB, and two reports in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer all chose to identify the murder victim as male, not as a transgender woman.

A few titles:

Oddly dressed body found in Olmsted Township pond identified

Brutal slaying marks the end of Clevelander’s fight for acceptance

Stabbed body in pond ID’d as missing Cleveland man

Man found in Olmsted Township pond has criminal history

Police Identify Man Found in Pond

Olmsted Township police ID man dead in pond, tied to concrete block/steel pipe as Carl Acoff Jr.

Not one report used the word “transgender” or identified the murder victim as a transgender woman. Not one report stated any attempts were made to contact the victim’s family, much less include a quote from a family member, friend, or neighbor.

One outlet even found it appropriate to publish her entire arrest record, as if that were pertinent to the story.

Citing a 2011 report last year, GLAAD noted “people who identify as transgender were 28% more likely to experience physical violence than those who are gender normative.”

At TransGriot, Monica Roberts calls the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s articles “transphobic,” a “journalistic hate crime,” and adds, “this is the worst piece of alleged reporting on a trans murder I’ve seen in a while.”

Roberts writes:

Misgender the person at every opportunity?  Check

Use police mugshot?  Check

Drag old criminal record into the story?  Check

‘Deception meme’ injected into story?    Check

‘Tragic transsexual’ meme injected into this story?   Check

Use salacious and sensationalist headlines?  Check

Not give a rats anus about the victim’s dignity and their femme presentation?  Check

Disrespecting another African-American transwoman?   Check.

In “Glaad And Local Advocates Addressing Horrific Coverage Of Transgender Murder Victim,” GLAAD today issued a statement noting “GLAAD, Equality OhioTransOhio 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.” GLAAD adds:

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.

Laurel Ramseyer at Pam’s House Blend writes:

The [Cleveland Plain Dealer] 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

Shane Morgan, Founder & Chair of TransOhio, and Elyzabeth Holford, Executive Director of Equality Ohio just issued this statement:

Cemia Acoff’s murder was brutal. The reporting that followed it was, at best, undignified. But it does not stop there.

“This sensationalism will not be tolerated. The issue is bigger than the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It is not about a single, horrible act of violence. This is about how people treat one another. It is no surprise that Cemia Acoff’s death was treated with disrespect. The trans community is repeatedly marginalized in every aspect of daily life: in the workplace, in the healthcare community, in the press and everywhere. It has to stop.” Shane Morgan, Founder & Chair of TransOhio.

Someone thought that Cemia’s body was ‘a mannequin.’ We cannot escape the scarring analogy to Matthew Shephard’s body being mistaken for a scarecrow in 1998.

There is no enumeration of the LGBT community in the our Hate Crimes legislation. Victims and their families are on their own in Ohio. Click here to assist Cemia’s family through the Cemia Acoff Fund.

We have to end this cycle of violence and hate. Now. We must educate our community and the press about who we are. We will not be treated without fairness and dignity. Click here to let us know if you can help us educate your local community.

When we stand together, we change Ohio.

A few final thoughts.

First, sadness and anger that Cemia Acoff was murdered, apparently brutally, and treated by both her murder(s) and the press in such an inhumane manner. Second, we hope the press uses this as a learning experience and actually works hard to make the changes necessary to report properly, and with the compassion that the life of a transgender person is equal to that of any other person. Lastly, we hope that violence against transgender will stop, and while we recognize that day may be far away, we hope that the press and law enforcement will stop giving cover to — by improperly and insufficiently reporting and improperly and insufficiently investigating and prosecuting — all those who inflict violence against transgender people.

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unequal April 30, 2013 at 6:21 pm

There will be a Rally at Willard Park (FREE stamp statue) in Cleveland Tomorrow, May 1st at 3pm.
Here is the FB event page.

bugbrennan May 1, 2013 at 10:34 am

The coverage of this person's murder is atrocious. However, Laurel Ramseyer's stats are garbage.

transgriot May 2, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Brennan, we know you're a certified trans oppressor. Poof be gone.. You don't care about ANY transperson

And here's what The Task Force had to say concerning African American trans women, who along with trans Latinas are taking the brunt of the anti-trans hate violence you are you TERF's help grease the skids for with your hate screeds.

guytanoparks May 5, 2013 at 12:39 am

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