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Take Action: Anti-trans victim blaming in the New York Times

*Trigger warning*

Lorena Escalera was a person. She was a performer in the ball scene. She died in a suspicious fire on Saturday. And she sure as hell does not deserve the treatment she’s getting from the New York Times. This is how the paper’s article about her death opens:

She was 25 and curvaceous, and she often drew admiring glances in the gritty Brooklyn neighborhood where she was known to invite men for visits to her apartment, her neighbors and the authorities said.

Called Lorena, she brought two men to her apartment, at 43 Furman Avenue in Bushwick, either late Friday night or in the early hours of Saturday, the police said.

A few paragraphs later, the article oh so cleverly reveals that Lorena was trans, or as the paper says, “she was born male.” The article relies on accounts from Lorena’s neighbors to paint a picture of her. Mostly, the account comes from two men, one of whom says he knew she did sex work because he saw her computer. The other guy is quoted as saying, “For a man, he was gorgeous. Hourglass figure.” Because apparently those words really deserved to see print.

I’m flashing back to the New York Timescoverage of the gang rape in Cleveland, TX, when the paper interviewed neighbors to paint a picture of an 11-year old girl as a slut who was asking for it. Specific stereotypes about trans women are being deployed in this article, like that we’re deceptive (it’s not that she was Lorena, it’s that she was called Lorena). But focusing on her appearance and bringing up sex work is the same old shit we always hear about how slutty women bring violence upon themselves. We don’t yet know the details of what happened to Lorena, if it was even a murder, and already the Times is blaming the victim.

Just like rape is rape, murder is murder. And victim blaming is still bullshit.

I wrote a lot of posts about horrible news coverage of violence against trans folks when I first joined this site. I’ve had to write less of these posts as the media has started to finally catch on to the fact that it’s still their job to report responsibly and professionally when the victim is trans. It is completely unacceptable this is still happening in the pages of the New York Times, especially after they were taken to task so publicly for victim blaming recently.

Other folks, including GLAADJanet Mock, and Autumn Sandeen are calling out this incredibly offensive and dangerous article as well. You can let the New York Times know you’re sick and tired of their victim blaming and transphobia by writing to them here or tweeting @NYTimes. Update: GLAAD also recommends tweeting @NYTMetro, the paper’s Metro Desk, which might get to the reporters more directly.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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