cross-posted to jspot

Yesterday, I posted about Lantos‘ support of trans communities. Later that day I was alerted to the murder of Sanesha Stewart, a 25 year old black transgender woman from the Bronx. Her murder is not an isolated incident, nor is the horrific coverage by the news media new. What I think is new is how the blogs offer a strong counter lens and opportunity for people to have a different conversation, one that immediately calls out the disgusting media coverage–one that immediately calls out the use of “tranny panic” defense as legitimate. One that helps push out GLAAD’s immediate call to action to communities who will take action, and one that adds to GLAAD’s call to also challenge the stereotype and bias that all trans woman must be sex workers, or that sex work is an inherently bad thing.

While I commend Lantos’ support of transgender people in the public policy realm, I also know that this still wouldn’t get at the root of all of the reasons why Sanesha’s life and memory is being treated so horrendously in the media, and that her murder is immediately viewed as “her own fault.”

Folks have already been blogging up a storm, including Megan Julca, Lisa Harney, The Curvature, Belledame, GallingGalla, and Holly over at Feministe, who gives a good overview, which I’m including below:

A man named Steve McMillian apparently stabbed Sanesha Stewart to death on Saturday morning. Who was she? She lived in the Bronx. She was tall and femme and well-liked by her neighbors. She was a client at the law project where I volunteer, but I never met her myself. Some of my colleagues helped her get her name legally changed more than a year ago. None of the above mattered at all to the news media, which handled this tragedy with the appropriate combination of sensitivity, respect for the victim, and a very cold eye for the man who the police dragged from her apartment, covered in her blood.

Oh no… wait one second and back up. There was no respect and no cold eye, none at all. I must be imagining some completely different universe where young trans women of color aren’t automatically treated like human trash. Where we all live, business as usual is to make a lot of comments about what the murder victim dressed like and looked like, reveal what her name was before she changed it, automatically assume she’s getting paid for sex, and to make excuses for the alleged killer.

And please note: “Cops: Ex-con slays Bronx transsexual ‘hooker’” is not the original headline of this NY Daily News article. The original one was “Fooled john stabbed Bronx tranny,” until pressure from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation got them to change it. They are still suggesting that people take action by writing to the editors–follow that link for more details.

The Daily News also published a follow-up story in which Sanesha’s downstairs neighbor insists that she wasn’t getting paid for sex; the Daily News doesn’t offer any proof for their earlier assertion that Sanesha Stewart was a “hooker,” other than “police sources.” And as many trans people in New York City will tell you, the NYPD assumes that almost any young, Black or Latina trans woman walking around on the street, or going into an apartment building with a guy, is getting paid for sex work. Profiling is constant; women have been arrested around here simply for having a gathering in someone’s apartment, apparently it’s too suspicious. I mean why would any normal person want to hang out with one of THEM, right?

I don’t know if Sanesha Stewart was doing sex work or not, and I don’t think it really matters, other than the fact that the usual assumptions are being made. I don’t know what else to say. This kind of thing always leaves me at a loss for words, there’s not much to do but sit, and cry, and wonder how long it will be until the next murder. Until the next young, poor or working class, Black or Latina trans woman is murdered just for being trans, and then mocked by so-called journalists before her body cools. —More

As we grieve the loss of Rep. Tom Lantos, we will also do what most will not, and queen emily put so well–we will grieve for the loss of Sanesha Stewart. We will say to her family, and to those who knew and loved her, we’re so very sorry for their loss. And as my family always says, may her memory forever be a blessing.