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.