Policing Transgender People

The sources for this research post include a Mic article with facts on the recent murder of Chay Reed, a transgender woman of color, a profile in Rolling Stone on CeCe McDonald – a transwoman of color wrongfully accused of murder, and survey of transgender Americans regarding their attitudes and experiences with the police.  All three sources work to help me explain the issues that transgender people face with the justice system.

CeCe McDonald

Transgender people are forced to contend with a plethora of threats in the public sphere. Already in 2017, nine – yes nine – transgender women, specifically transgender woman of color have been murdered in acts that have rightfully been categorized as hate crimes (GLAAD).  From 2010 to 2016, 72% of transgender people in the United States who were murdered were transgender black women (Rodriguez). woman   The last murder happened two weeks ago.

On April 12, Chay Reed, 29, was shot and killed in Miami, Florida. The first reports following her murder misgendered her, a common error in reporting on transgender murders.  I have already discussed the dangers in being transgender in the US and the violence that these innocent women and men are subjected to; however, what is a person to do if they cannot even feel safe with the police? What if the police are not only neglecting to provide you with the same security that they are presumably giving to every other citizen, but actually making you feel unsafe?

Screenshot of a police training video on how to interact with transgender people

16% of trans women have been to jail compared to the general population (Elderly) and in a survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task force, 22% of transgender respondents reported having been harassed by police officers due to gender biases.  Transgender individuals of color reported 29-39% and 46% of all respondents reported feeling “uncomfortable” in asking police for help (“Criminal Justice? News Fast Facts about Transgender People, Police and Incarceration”, 2011).

There’s no question that the US requires police reforms, #blacklivesmatter has put that at the forefront of the conversation for the past 5 or so years.  What is not getting a lot of coverage though, is the severe mistreatment of transgender people by both the police and America’s justice system.

Cece McDonald after her assault

Black trans teen CeCe McDonald’s sentence of 41 months for second-degree manslaughter AKA self-defense after stabbing a nazi tattoo laden, transphobic, white biker who threatened to kill her and attempted to assault her is evidence of these injustices (Elderly).

Attention and reform are required in order for trans individuals to acquire the same freedoms, rights and liberties they – like every other American – deserve.





Newsflash! It’s Time We Give Transgender Americans a Voice

There is no doubt that an authoritative, dependable source – straight from the horse’s mouth – is vital both in journalistic writing as well as in capturing and establishing a valid, first-hand perspective; however, often times sourcing out these authentic accounts can be difficult – especially if a news organization does not even go so far as to consider them in the first place.

Research #4 deals with the problematic coverage of transgender Americans that mainstream, news media is frequently guilty of. The main source utilized for research #4 is am op-ed critique written by Elizabeth Jensen for NPR titled, “Lots Of Transgender Stories; Not As Many Transgender Voices” and a GLAAD report calling for increased and accurate media coverage, specifically of transgender murders.

Jensen does a great job at analyzing NPR’s coverage of issues related to transgender people highlighting that: “Of the 43 stories we found in the archives through yesterday that dealt with the issue since HB2 was signed, just nine (four of those after the listener wrote) included someone who openly identified themself to NPR as transgender. Looked at another way, out of 91 total guests, just 11 spoke from the perspective of being transgender,” (Jensen). As Jensen says, herself, that is simply not enough.

Imagine if a political debate regarding the subject of Black Lives Matter were broadcasted with zero black representation, the same idea applies to transgender people.

Mainstream, news media consistently forgets to consider transgender individuals. Even in their most sincere stories related to transgender rights and issues, there is either no amount [or an insufficient amount] of actual transgender people given access to publically broadcasted discourses on topics related to their tribulations. Imagine if a political debate regarding the subject of Black Lives Matter were broadcasted with zero black representation, the same idea applies to transgender people. It does not matter how thoughtful or empathetic a news desk’s approach to the experiences of transgender Americans is, people who are not transgender simply cannot speak to the full extent of those individual experiences.

Regardless of intention, the impact that news organizations have when they mishandle coverage of transgender Americans is serious and bears dangerous consequences. Abby Jensen, a ‘a transgender woman, attorney, activist and vice president and general counsel of the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance’ wrote to NPR after a particular story involving the HB2 bathroom legislation to say that: “‘In fact, what we want is the right to use the restrooms and other facilities that match our gender identity, just as all non-transgender people are allowed to do; in other words, equal rights, not special rights. (Everyone has a gender identity, just as everyone has a race and a sexual orientation.) By using the word ‘choice,’ NPR feeds into anti-LGBT arguments that being transgender is merely a ‘lifestyle choice,’ and therefore not worthy of respect or consideration,’” (Jensen).  Essentially, FAKE NEWS!

This is just one example in a sea of many poorly covered stories, and it’s worth noting too that NPR is a moderate and balanced news source.

Furthermore, the overall volume of news coverage of transgender Americans is lacking.

These are the transgender people killed in 2017 — all of whom are transgender women of color:

  • Alphonza Watson killed on March 22 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was 38 years old.
  • Jaquarrius Holland killed on February 19 in Monroe, Louisiana (identified as trans on February 28). She was 18 years old.
  • Ciara McElveen killed on February 27 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was 21 years old.
  • Chyna Gibson killed on February 25 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was 31 years old.
  • Keke Collier killed on February 21 in Englewood, Chicago. She was 24 years old.
  • JoJo Striker killed on February 8 in Toledo, Ohio. She was 23 years old.
  • Mesha Caldwell killed on January 4 in Canton, Mississippi. She was 41 years old.
  • Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow killed on January 1 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She was 28 years old.


According to GLAAD, media reports fail to bring attention to this at-risk community, resort to victim blaming, treatment of the victims as mere statistics, rather than humanizing them and adding, “further insult to injury” regularly misgender the victims that they report on (Schmider).

It is important to cover transgender murders and shed light on the atrocities that transgender Americans – more specifically transgender women of color — are subjected to; however, the way that these murders are covered is incredibly important as well. In an effort to avoid perpetuating the victim narrative of transgender individuals mainstream, news media must be more respectful and careful in its presentation of these individuals and their stories.

Jensen, Elizabeth. “Lots Of Transgender Stories; Not As Many TransgenderVoices.” NPR. National Public Radio, 16 May 2016. Web. 2 Apr. 2017.
Schmider, Alex. “GLAAD Calls for Increased and Accurate Media Coverage of Transgender Murders.” Blog post. GLAAD. GLAAD, 22 Feb. 2017. Web. 2 Apr. 2017.

Poortrayal – Transgender Media Representation in Film and TV

Building on the previous research I published regarding trans- visibility and the use of YouTube by members of the transgender community as an empowering platform and tool, I decided to take a closer look at American media’s representation of the transgender community. Research #3 will deal specifically with the entertainment industry – television and film. In research #4 I plan to explore the news media’s coverage and its many failures in adequately covering trans-Americans. I utilized a research paper: “Redefining Realness?: On Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, TS Madison, and the Representation of Transgender Women of Color in Media” by Julian Kevon Glover, a report by GLAAD and a news article by Jessica Lachenal published in The Mary Sue for research #3. The two former sources are scholarly articles from reputable sources and the news source [The Mary Sue], though smaller in scale than say the Vox or Vulture, is a pop culture and entertainment publication with verifiable information.


Historical Context

‘Work It’ ABC original Sitcom canceled after 2-episodes

Not unlike most minority groups, the history of trans-media representation has been marred with problematic stereotypes, parodies, and violent identity aggressions – be they blatant or micro in scale. GLAAD [The Gay % Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation] has cataloged the media representation of over 100 episodes and non-recurring storylines or scripted television featuring transgender characters. 54% of the shows that were categorized were cited for proliferating negative representations of trans people. 35% were cited at a range from “problematic” to “good.” Only 12% were considered groundbreaking and accurate (“Victims or Villains: Examining Ten Years of Transgender Images on Television”).

Example of problematic/negative transgender media representation in Seth MacFarlane’s ‘Family Guy’ series


More often than not transgender characters are portrayed within a dichotomy of villains or victims. The most common profession transgender characters are depicted in is sex workers: 1- out of -5 characters is depicted in this role. Yes, while 50% of transgender women have reported working as sex workers the intricacies and problems of this issue – like discrimination and inequitable access to jobs – are seldom included within these plotlines. What’s more transgender characters are cast into victim roles 41% of the time and killer or villain roles 21% of the time (“Victims or Villains: Examining Ten Years of Transgender Images on Television”).


mCis-Casting Trans Roles

There is then, of course, the problem of shows and films casting cis-gendered actors to play transgender roles. Most recent/notable Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl and Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent. These sorts of casting decisions largely fall on deaf ears; however, transgender actress Jamie Clayton – who stars in Netflix’s Sense8 series called out Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer for failing to support the trans community:





Mis-casting of characters is nothing new. Hell, even Jared Leto scored an Oscar for his portrayal of Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club and Felicity Huffman’s performance in 2005’s Transamerica earned her a Golden Globe. In spite of this, though, the sort of Hollywood casting practices are called into question all the time. Heterosexual actors playing gay and lesbian roles or actors playing people with disabilities have come under fire in the past. There are also issues like in the case of Transparent where the series starts with Maura (played by Jeffrey Tambor) deciding to fully transition from M-to-F. In regard to casting, the question becomes whether or not it is appropriate/respectful to ask a trans actress to present as a male transitioning to female or for a trans actor to do the same. Authorship and representation become issues when transpeople are not even given access to portray trans-characters. The good news is that things are getting better.

Jeffrey Tambor as ‘Maura’ in Amazon’s Transparent by Jill Soloway


Silver Linings

Laverne Cox’s multi-faceted role in Orange is the New Black and the inclusion of trans-actresses like Hari Nef, Alexandra Billings, and Trace Lysette in Transparent are examples of where Hollywood has begun to open the door to trans-talent more and more. Moreover, these inclusions lead to important steps more adequate and accurate representation, specifically for transgender women of color, who – as I have previously stated – are more often than not the most marginalized members of the LGBTQIA+ community:


Freema Andrews and Jamie Clayton in a scene from Netflix’s “Sense8.” Photo credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace/Netflix.

“While it is important that the public encounters and understands transgender identities and the various experiences with discrimination that transgender women of color face on a regular basis, it is also important to understand that not all trans women have the same experience or relationship to their transgender identity,” (Glover).

The hope is that Hollywood continues to value and increase the volume of complex, trans characters. Entertainment is not frivolous, the soft power it can have to normalize trans people and the diverse, “trans-experiences” that these individuals go through can be incredibly salient. Furthermore,  If cis-actors can play trans characters than trans actors should be afforded the same opportunities to do the same.












The Transgender Community in the United States (Research #2)





For this portion of research I used a specific scholarly article regarding the relationship between trans people and YouTube as a media platform for them to document their experiences. The article “Trans On YouTube: Intimacy, Visibility, Temporality” by Linda Horvak takes a deeper look at the ways in which YouTube has been utilized by member’s of the trans community.

Whether it’s a video journal documenting an individual’s transition or a trans personality, beauty and fashion vlogger like Gigi Gorgeous, who has nearly 2,500,000 subscribers on the video sharing platform, YouTube has provided a conduit for trans people to open up and share their experiences to trans- and cis-viewers alike.

Documentaries and news segments will bring on “experts” who are not trans and have no real first-hand experience with the transgender people to frame the community. More often than not these stories are blatantly one-dimensional – or worse – they work to perpetuate stereotypes like that most trans women are sex workers or that trans women of color are violent or that they are simply freaks. In constrast, YouTube has empowered this consistently marginalized group by giving them the ability to shape their own narratives. YouTube has also played a significant role in showing via the abundance of videos about transition, that not all trans people are like – a fallacy that leads to misinformation with respect to the trans community.

“YouTube’s predilection for personal and the spectacular have made it a powerful tool for some trans people to construct the ways that their bodies are looked at and heard – and to connect geographically disparate people in intimate ways. To put it bluntly, these videos save trans lives,” (Horvak 581).

In addition to providing a support system and inclusive forum for trans individuals on the Internet these vloggers and their videos tackle the “social othering” that the trans community is constantly plagued with. Rather than an us against them mentality of cis v. trans: “the YouTube talking head brings trans individuals close to the viewer [regardless of cis/trans], both in seeming physical proximity and feelings of intimacy,” (Horvak 576). In doing so, trans vloggers are breaking down their own otherness. Perhaps a cis viewer has never met a trans person, or spoken to a trans person and likewise perhaps a trans viewer has never met or heard about another trans person’s experience. These videos, though mediated are a sort of conversation between trans vloggers and their viewers. Their channels are a way to provide and gain understanding.


Linda Horvak – Trans On YouTube: Intimacy, Visibility, Temporality






The Transgender Community in the United States (Research #1)





In 2016, 27 transgender individuals were murdered in the United States and nearly all were transgender women of color, making it the deadliest year [on record] for transgender people in the United States of America. These numbers do not reflect transgender people whose deaths are not reported due to misgendering in police reports, news stories, and in some cases even the victim’s family. Victims of violence are overwhelming transgender women of color. Due to lack of information about the perpetrators motives, not all of these homicides have been identified as hate crimes.

I decided to focus in on governmental data and reports from the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD and various other organizations to help guide my preliminary research for the topic of improving transgender rights and increasing transgender visibility and integration within the US. Though disheartened I was not surprised by the bleak findings from the various reports and surveys collected on transgender identifying individuals here in the US.

Unfortunately, as a country, the US is far from where it needs to be with respect to protecting the rights and liberties of transgender Americans. The fact that only 18 states and the District of Columbia even provide laws that protect people from discrimination and discrimination from employment on the basis of gender identity is demonstrative evidence of where the nation has systematically failed to safeguard these people’s basic human rights.

Other stats I found not included in the info graphics [above] include:


  • 46% of all transgender and gender non-conforming individuals reported feeling “uncomfortable” seeking police help.


  • 22% of transgender people have reported being harassed by police officers due to bias.


  • 29-38% of transgender people of color reported being harassed by police officers due to bias.


  • Transgenderism was classified in the DSM as a mental illness labeled GID (or Gender Identity Disorder) – until 2013. [“Gender Dysphoria,” 2013].


The sources I use are credible and verifiable. I made sure to only use professional reports from institutions like The National Center for Transgender Equality, Center for Disease Control, ACLU etc. for the numbers I have presented in my research. Furthermore, any numbers, statistics, facts that I have included in my research that were not from government/public/national institutions came from reputable news sources. For example, the stats that stated:

the transgender community makes up approximately 0.3 percent of U.S. adults – roughly 700,000 people. [“Born in the Wrong Body: The Transgender Struggle”, 2013],

was pulled from an article written in The Week and The Week’s source for that information was UCLA’s Williams Institute, which focuses on legal issues that affect transgender people.







A Blueprint for Equality: Prison and Detention Reform. Rep. National Center for

Transgender Equality, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2015. <http://transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/resources/NCTE_Blueprint_for_Equality2012_Prison_Reform.pdf&gt;.

“Born in the Wrong Body: The Transgender Struggle.” The Week. The Week Magazine, 23 Sept. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <http://theweek.com/articles/459647/born-wrong-body-transgender-struggle&gt;.

“Gender Dysphoria.” APA DSM-5 Development. America Psychiatric Association, 2013. Web. 16 Apr. 2015. <http://www.dsm5.org/documents/gender%20dysphoria%20fact%20sheet.pdf&gt;.

“HIV Infection among Transgender People.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2015. <http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/transgender/pdf/transgender.pdf&gt;.