Freedom of expression does not include hate crimes – or biased reportage

// 25 February 2008

This is a guest post by Helen G

Recently there seems to have been an increase in the mass media’s coverage of violent hate crimes against transgendered women. It’s hard to keep up, but there seem to have been four or five such crimes in the past fortnight. The victims are all comparatively young, mostly of colour and they are all people who have been assigned male but lean toward the feminine.

Sadly, any positivity resulting from the mass media feeling more able to mention gender non-conformity is countered by the negative portrayal of TG women.

The murder of Sanesha Stewart is a case in point: the report in the New York Daily News was originally headlined “Fooled john stabbed Bronx tranny” until pressure from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation persuaded the paper to change it to “Cops: Ex-con slays Bronx transsexual ‘hooker'”. But the article still contained comments about the way she dressed and presented herself, it made a point of misgendering her and alleged that she was regularly paid for sex. This, for example, is the second paragraph of the article and there is so much wrong with it that it’s hard to know where to start:

“The victim – a 25-year-old man who dressed like a woman – was identified by sources as Talib Stewart, who often went by the feminine nicknames of Nesha or Sanesha.”

The article is here:

Well worth reading – for balance – is Holly’s post at Feministe which gives a radically different assessment – link here.

And now we have the murder of Simmie Williams and immediately – again – the dehumanisation appears in the press. See this article in which she is referred to as a “cross-dresser” and a “transvestite”, we are told she “dressed like a woman” and “he” had an argument with two men before being shot and killed.

I find it hard to be objective right now, so will close by repeating urbanartiste’s comment at Feministe, which I think pretty much sums it up:

“I think the bigger message here is that attacks on transgender individuals reveals that parts of society want to entrench traditional gender roles. Just as feminism is a threat to masculinity – to some- so is transgender. We have a long way to go in this country.”

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