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“A Human Being Like Other Victims”: The Media Framing of Trans Homicide in the United States

Abstract

A growing awareness of violence against LGBTQ + individuals has led to an increase in media coverage of the homicides of trans people in the United States. Media accounts involve powerful narratives which are subjective, biased, and imbued with meaning. These narratives employ “frames” that impact public perception of populations. Studies have demonstrated differences in the ways that trans victims of homicide are framed compared to cis victims, specifically regarding responsibility for the violence inflicted upon them. Trans victims are more likely to be constructed as “deviants” or criminals who are deserving of or responsible for their own homicides. In addition, these victims are framed as deceivers who deliberately obscure their gender modality from offenders, thus facilitating violent retaliation. The present study employs a mixed methods approach to analyze articles published in news media outlets about the twenty-six trans people killed in 2018. Our analysis identified more positive frames than negative frames employed by agents of social control, such as media and law enforcement, that inform narratives surrounding this unique form of violence. Yet, efforts still need to be undertaken to involve trans voices, to humanize those who have lost their lives, and most importantly, to prevent this violence. This article discusses implications for how these organizations can begin to transform these narratives to describe accurately trans victims of homicide.

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Notes

  1. We use the terms “trans” and “cis” rather than “transgender” and “cisgender.” This is to be consistent with use of the terms “trans woman” and “trans man” throughout the manuscript. “Trans” is an adjective that describes someone’s gender identity, as is the term “cis.” The outdated terminology “transwoman” (without a space between “trans” and “woman”) has been used to dehumanize trans women by creating a separate category of gender that sets women who are trans apart from “women” who are cis (and similarly with “transman”). The use of the term “trans woman” indicates that trans women are women, and the adjective “trans” modifies the noun “woman” (Holleb 2019). The term “trans” indicates a category of gender, rather than a specific gender that is not “woman.”

  2. Because police departments do not always report accurately the gender of homicide victims, there may be more trans victims whose deaths have not come to the attention of the Human Rights Campaign or the greater trans community.

  3. The full list of 2018 homicide victims can be found at https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-transgender-community-in-2018.

  4. We recognize that these terms have different definitions, but they frequently appeared interchangeably in news articles. “Prostitution” is a term used to criminalize “sex work” (Haak 2018).

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Acknowledgments

We appreciate the assistance of Madison LaSala, who assisted with data collection in the early phase of this study. We are also grateful for the useful comments provided by two anonymous reviewers, as well as input from the guest editor, Rita Shah, on the final version of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Christina DeJong.

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Appendix: List of 2018 Trans Homicide Victims

Appendix: List of 2018 Trans Homicide Victims

Name Date of homicide Location of homicide
Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien January 5 North Adams, MA
Viccky Gutierrez January 10 Los Angeles, CA
Celine Walker February 4 Jacksonville, FL
Tonya Harvey February 6 Buffalo, NY
Zakaria Fry February 19 Albuquerque, NM
Phylicia Mitchell February 23 Cleveland, OH
Amia Tyrae Berryman March 26 Baton Rouge, LA
Sasha Wall April 1 Chesterfield, SC
Karla Patricia Flores-Pavon May 9 Dallas, TX
Nicole Hall May 12 Dallas, TX
Nino Fortson May 13 Atlanta, GA
Gigi Pierce May 21 Portland, OR
Antash'a English June 1 Jacksonville, FL
Diamond Stephens June 18 Meridian, MS
Cathalina Christina James June 24 Jacksonville, FL
Keisha Wells June 24 Cleveland, OH
Sasha Garden July 19 Orlando, FL
Vontashia Bell August 30 Shreveport, LA
Dejanay Stanton August 30 Chicago, IL
Shantee Tucker September 5 Philadelphia, PA
Londonn Moore September 8 North Port, FL
Nikki Enriquez September 15 Laredo, TX
Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier October 3 Chicago, IL
Regina Denise Brown October 7 Orangeburg, SC
Tydi Dansbury November 26 Detroit, MI
Keanna Mattel December 7 Dallas, TX

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DeJong, C., Holt, K., Helm, B. et al. “A Human Being Like Other Victims”: The Media Framing of Trans Homicide in the United States. Crit Crim 29, 131–149 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-021-09559-z

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