Friday, January 23, 2009

WTHR's Jefferson Target Of Unfair Attack By GLAAD

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has launched a patently unfair attack against WTHR reporter Steve Jefferson over his reporting on the murder of an Indianapolis couple, one of whom was a transgender person. This is what GLAAD says it finds offensive about Jefferson's reporting and led it to label him "The Worst" in news coverage:

A December 28 crime report on WTHR.com detailing the murder of a transgender woman and her boyfriend in Broad Ripple, Indiana used the incorrect name, the wrong pronouns and described the transgender victim’s life in a generally offensive manner. Taysia Elzy a transgender woman, and her boyfriend Michael Hunt were found murdered in their home on December 26. The article, “Family of murder victim speaks out,” uses a male nameto describe Taysia and uses male pronouns and identifiers throughout the piece. The story also repeats a police statement with the problematic phrase, “alternative lifestyle,” neglecting to put quotes around it. GLAAD called and e-mailed crime reporter Steve Jefferson and offered extensive resources for correcting the faulty coverage. The story clearly violates Associated Press style guidelines which state, “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.” Instead of taking our advice the reporter rebuffed our educational efforts saying in an email, “I did not do this story based on lifestyle.” Jefferson furthered, “Our goal is to catch the killer- NOT promote your cause.” He also said he did not use female pronouns because he said the transgender victim “was NOT post-op.” WTHR has yet to change this story.
GLAAD subjects Jefferson to a standard different from the victim's own family. GLAAD complains that Jefferson "used the incorrect name, the wrong pronouns and described the transgender victim’s life in a generally offensive manner." The victim's given legal name was Avery Elzy as indicated by Elzy's state-issued driver's license. Biologically, Elzy was born a male, although she had begun a transformation to become a female and had adopted a female name, "Taysia." Jefferson interviewed members of Taysia's family, who still referred to her as a brother. "I called him an hour later and let him know I was not coming to his party," Theresa Elzy, the victim's sister, told Jefferson. Jefferson quotes an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spokesman as indicating Elzy lived an "alternative lifestyle."

I don't think anyone could accuse Elzy's family of insensitivity on this matter by still referring to her birth-assigned gender, and I don't think anyone should infer that intent from Jefferson's reporting. People can quibble with the IMPD spokesman's use of "alternative lifestyle", but I think we should also be able to agree that not all cross-dressing individuals are transgender. The facts in a case like this could confuse anyone. Let's not impute bad motive where none exists. Groups like GLAAD should work to make reporters like Jefferson sensitive to their concerns, but labeling him the "The Worst" is way out of line. GLAAD's misplaced response to Jefferson's reporting does a disservice to the very cause it seeks to promote. Jefferson let the group get to him by questioning his style of reporting and responded a little too harshly, but let's not make of this anything more than what it really is--an honest mistake.

9 comments:

Downtown Indy said...

Has everyone forgotten the initial police report as passed on from PIO to news organizations was about a male named Avery?

Wonder how the death certificate reads?

But that aside, I tire of all the special interest groups that pop out of the woodwork anytime they detect a slight - and they can neither comprehend it was not intended to be offensive nor try to reeducate rather but go the easy route and vilify. Frankly, when they do that they are, in my eyes, just as repugnant.

Advance Indiana said...

Some people really need to grow up. I fought and advocated for the inclusion of gender identity in Indianapolis' HRO through this blog and have gotten nothing but grief from them in return. I handled a pro bono case for a transgender person before the EEOC. When the EEOC said she didn't have a case, she stormed into my office and lashed out at me in front of a paying client. You just can't win for losing with some people.

Advance Indiana said...

I should add that in that pro bono case, I had gotten initial agreement with a civil rights group to pursue her case in the federal court free of charge in an effort to overturn prior rulings in the 7th Circuit refusing to recognize gender identity claims. After that blow up, she lost out on that opportunity.

artfuggins said...

I think the point is what pronoun and gender the victim used....many families do not accept the transgendered reassignment and always use the original name and pronoun. What did the victim use?

Advance Indiana said...

Jefferson interviewed the family. You can read what they said. His lover was also killed. Who else was he to ask? If the family didn't volunteer that to him and they used the masculine pronoun, then it is unfair to condemn him for repeating what they said. The death of any family members is a difficult time. It is even more difficult to go on camera under these circumstances. Jefferson went with what he had and there was nothing mean-spirited or uninformed about his reporting. The fact given to him and other reporters by police was that he and his lover led an alternative lifestyle. Jefferson's report included information that would help police engage the public to track down the killer, which happened within days. The killer was an invited guest in their home. Give the guy a break.

spooknp said...

To me, out of respect for the family, I would use whatever pronoun they are using. If they don't want to recognize the obvious, it is not me to judge that. I would go by what mom and dad say first, followed by siblings, then other next of kin. Do these people think reporters should correct family members in these instances?

Marti said...

Oh yes, you're the mighty friend of the transgender community. Seriously, that's about the funniest thing I've heard all day. Thanks for the chuckle.

Oh, and GLAAD is uptight because there's this thing that most journalists use, it's called the AP stylebook. You really should check into it sometime. Because it states that you should use the pronouns of the person either preferred or the pronouns of how they presented/lived.

Advance Indiana said...

Marti, Do you deny that I fought for the passage of the HRO day after day on this blog and spoke out for the inclusion of the gender identity language? I serve up my archive on this blog to prove my point. What was it exactly you did? To even suggest anything to the contrary confirms what a disrespecting person you are. You constantly attack everyone else, while doing nothing positive for the cause.

Advance Indiana said...

And, as you insist on ignoring, Jefferson used the same pronoun to describe Elzy as his family. Do you hold contempt for them too? Knowing you, the answer is probably yes.