Open Letter to Portland Media: Recent Coverage of Transgender Woman Killed

Local Media Denied Rightful Name of Gigi

by Sebastian Fortino
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Portland media outlets have long covered and reported on our area’s LGBTQIAA2S+community. That coverage has varied greatly in its quality, accuracy, and respect for our community. Pride Northwest doesn’t typically spend a lot of time calling out the low points ofthat coverage-we wouldn’t have enough time to do that and continue the work that we do.However, recent reporting around the murder of a transgender woman in downtown Portland requires that we speak out.

One after the other, in first reporting (and in continued coverage for some) on the death of Gigi, a well-known and beloved member of the inner-Portland community, Portland media made thechoice to share Gigi’s birth name, not only directly denying Gigi her own identity but also reinforcing the false narrative that transgender people aren’t using their “real name.” That they, themselves, are somehow being dishonest, are not valid, or due full respect. We don’t do that thatwith the countless other people who do not live by their birth names-performers, artists, the neighbor next door. Why is this need to identify through a birth name reserved for just transgender people? It is unnecessary and unacceptable.

It’s also dangerous. Transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, are significantly more at risk for violent attack. This is as true in what most people consider the“more accepting” Portland, as it is in the most conservative areas of this country. Transgenderwomen of color still experience violence and still die at higher rates than any other group of people in our community. That matters to us. And it should matter to the media professionals reporting on our community.

In this case, those professionals have failed Gigi. Her truth was that she was a transgender woman in Portland, whose life was taken from her far too soon. The current reporting, in usingGigi’s birth name and taking away her actual identity, denies her the respect in death that she didnot receive in life. The violence experienced by Gigi did not end with her death. It continues in the transphobic messaging that underlies the current reporting.

In reaching out to local television stations regarding their coverage, the response has been mixed. We commend those who have responded to our inquiries for their timely response and updatedcoverage. Some have responded, sharing that they are “only using the language provided by police.” While we understand the “in the moment” temptation of that, it isn’t good enough.

There are numerous resources available to journalists and reporters, with standards for how to cover and report on the LGBTQIAA2S+ community. GLAAD (formerly the Gay and Lesbian

Alliance Against Defamation) publishes a full Media Reference Guide each year. The Association of LGBTQ Journalists provides detailed references and standards for reporting on our community. Both include specific guidelines for covering the transgender community.

We expect and demand that our media will do their due diligence and educate themselves. Go beyond language used by official sources, as they may be unaware or unwilling to address their own methods of sharing information. Look past stereotypes and prejudicial inferences. Peoples’lives depend on it.

Thank you,

Board of Directors and Staff Pride Northwest, Inc.