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.
Worst of all is the fact that even the newer article ends with a hint of what will undoubtedly be part of the next chapter of this story: the “tranny panic” defense.
Ramel C., 37, said McMillan had a girlfriend. He said his life-long friend must have been shocked to discover he was with a man.
“I’m not saying that’s a reason to kill anyone,” he said. “But I’m sure he was in some type of turmoil or shock.”
(Right, because no guy with a girlfriend has ever slept with or dated a trans woman.)
Read this, and then go look at some of the comments on those stories and the other news sources that megan_julca rounded up. The “trans panic” defense was used in the trials following the murder of Gwen Araujo, and those murderers got reduced sentences. We still live in a place and time where people think it’s “perfectly understandable” that someone would flip out and want to kill a trans woman just because they find out she’s trans. And those are the people who claim not to condone violent criminal reactions! Others are happy to step right up and say (at least on the anonymous Internet) that they’d react the same way and do the same thing. Trans people take the blame; trans people should be the ones walking around with prominent badges of shame, so all the “normal” people don’t make the wrong assumption. The question nobody ever seems to ask is, why would you automatically assume that the person you’re on a date with isn’t trans?
Read More…Read More…