Dalila Ali Rajah
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'Deadnaming' Trans Women Isn't Just Insulting, It Subverts Justice

Photography by Gioncarlo Valentine, ProPublica

Deadnamed Aeacelestice3 Gioncarlovalentine4propublica

Aea Celestice hopes to move out of Jacksonville. “I can’t maintain this existence much longer,” she said.

In Jacksonville, one of the victims, Antash’a English, was described by police with her correct name, but was also described as a man. That’s because English had legally changed her name, but not her gender identification on official documents. Her fiancé, Robert Johnson, said that English had wanted to change her gender ID but she didn’t know it was possible without having genital surgery.

In July, a transgender woman was found dead in a parking lot in Orlando, Fla. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office press release described the victim as a man “wearing a wig” and “dressed as a female.” Local news outlets soon started publishing and broadcasting stories describing the victim as a “man dressed as a woman.” The trans community responded with anger.

Monica Roberts, the Texas journalist who has been chronicling the murders of trans women for years, was the first reporter to identify the name the victim lived by, Sasha Garden. In a post published on her blog, she condemned the local media coverage.

“As you probably guessed,” Roberts wrote, “Sasha was deadnamed and horribly disrespected by the local Orlando media.”

When ProPublica first contacted the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, spokesperson Jane Watrel said that the agency uses the name and sex listed on the victim’s state-issued identification when describing homicide cases. Watrel later clarified that, after speaking to Garden’s family, the department would begin using female pronouns to describe Garden during their investigation.

In a subsequent press release, Orange County Sheriff Jerry L. Demings wrote that the department did not intend to be insensitive and apologized.

In contrast, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has not publicly acknowledged or apologized for misgendering and misnaming transgender victims, though in a recent interview with a local news station, Sheriff Mike Williams acknowledged that there had been a “lack of sensitivity” when referring to the victims.

In June, a few days after Cathalina James’s slaying, local activists and representatives from statewide advocacy organizations, gathered in Jacksonville City Hall to demand the city council do more to protect transgender women.

“Every day I wake up, I put on my clothes, I step outside, I don’t know if I’m going to make it home safe. And if I make it home safe, I don’t know if I’m going to be in one piece or not,” said Paige Mahogany Parks, a local activist, imploring the city council to investigate why so many trans women had been murdered.

“There’s no relationship with the JSO and the trans community as a whole,” she added.

Chloie Kensington, an activist and personal friend of English, said the city was mistreating trans women.

Pointing directly at the council members, Kensington vowed during the meeting, “I for one will march in every pair of damn stilettos I have to hold each and every one of you accountable.”

On June 27, JSO’s Twitter account put out a video of the car they said was driven by James’s killer. The post referred to her by the male name she was given at birth. It also said she was transgender and that she went by the name Cathalina.

A JSO spokesperson told ProPublica that the tweet was not a sign of a new policy. Using the victim’s gender and chosen name, according to the sheriff’s office, fell under the category of “additional details.”

But the pressure the trans community is putting on JSO may be having some effect. On August 2, JSO announced the creation of a group of officers that will serve as liaisons to the LGBTQ community.

For Jacksonville resident Savannah Bowens, the transgender woman who changed her name after an employer questioned her about it, respect is worth the fight.

“There has to be somebody that says ‘I have had enough,’” she said.

“When I die? I don’t want to be called a male,” she went on. “That is not who I lived my life as, that is not my legacy, and I want to be respected as who I am. People knew me as Savannah. They knew me as she.”

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