Human Rights

A Transgender Woman Is Murdered—Media Refuses to Honor Her Gender Identity

Lamia Beard exemplifies the violence against trans women of color, and the media bias against them.

Photo Credit: Souce: Facebook

Lamia Beard may be the first transgender woman murdered in 2015, according to National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), but she is by no means the first trans woman to have her gender identity denied by authorities and media outlets.

The 30-year-old woman was found suffering from a gunshot wound in Norfolk, Va. Saturday morning, according to numerous reports. Beard was taken to Norfolk General Hospital where she later died of her injuries.

Public Information Officer Daniel Hudson of the Norfolk Police Department told AlterNet that the department has no leads on Beard’s murder and is asking anyone with information to call 1-888-LOCK-U-UP.

So far, the three media outlets that have covered Beard's death (News Channel 3, Fox affiliate WAVY-TV, and The Virginia-Pilot) have misgendered her as a man. It is not clear if any of the outlets knew that Beard identified as a transgender woman. NCAVP worked with the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, in Richmond, Va., to confirm that Beard identified herself as a transgender woman.

Lourdes Ashley Hunter, executive director of the Trans Women of Color Collective, told AlterNet that media coverage of Beard’s death is making the mourning process even more challenging for many in the transgender community.

“Another one of our sisters has been misgendered in the media,” Hunter said. “Her life has been sensationalized with allegations of prostitution. They are already coloring this murder. They’re framing that our lives don’t matter when they do that. It’s no surprise that this is happening with this narrative because this is how they discredit trans people.”

Officer Hudson told AlterNet that Norfolk police are aware that Beard identified as a transgender woman but the department must identify all victims by the names stored in their system and the FBI database. “If we discover any other name that has been legally changed, we will definitely update that,” Hudson said. “But as for right now, we have not.”

But if media outlets are aware that a victim identifies as a transgender woman, Hunter says it is their responsibility to honor that.

“The media’s obligation is not to the police but to report accurate news,” Hunter said. “If a person identifies as transgender, you would report that. It’s important that media accurately report the lives of trans people because, a lot of times, it's where the discrediting happens.The police can say whatever they want. If the media does not print accurately, then the narrative has been shifted.”

Osman Ahmed, NCAVP’s Education and Research Coordinator, told AlterNet that the number of transgender women who die as a result of hate crimes is likely much higher than reported. He says one initial challenge of identifying transgender victims comes from law enforcement officials who do not properly record the person’s true gender.

“Trans women of color have historically had problematic, violent relationships with law enforcement agencies around the country," he said. "When you saw the report, you saw the numbers of physical violence incidents by the police against trans women of color or trans women in general. So we do know that the police are also culpable here. Their reports label this person as a man as opposed to who she really was and that was perpetuated to the media.”

GLAAD provides a free media guide for newsrooms to looking to properly report stories on the LGBTQ community, including transgender people. 

That Beard was African American and is the first known transgender woman killed this year reveals how prevalent transphobic violence is, and how it tends to disproportionately affect trans women of color. Last year, at least 12 transgender women of color were murdered in what were all possibly acts of transphobic violence. Many of those murders have gone unsolved. NCAVP’s most recent report on LGBTQ violence reveals that 72 percent of anti-LGBT violence was directed against transgender women, 67 percent of whom were women of color. 

Beard’s funeral will be held Monday, January 26 at 11 a.m. at Metropolitan Funeral Service, in Norfolk, according to information on the funeral home’s website, which also misgenders herA family-approved crowdfunding campaign has been set up to cover her expenses. 

Over the past 24 hours, mourners have used the hashtag #LamiaBeard to pay their respects:

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior editor at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.

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