Dear Mr. Lavers,
My name is Joanna Cifredo I am a local writer for FireBreathingTGirl.com and a fierce trans advocate. I am also a trans woman of color.
Recently I read a story that came out in the Blade written by you [http://shar.es/LUQSv] and cannot begin to tell you how infuriated I was. In the article you write about the murders of Mia Henderson and Kandy Hall. I found disturbing that you insisted on airing their legal history, including the sex work they may or may not have engaged in when discussing their murders. You write:
“Court records indicate that a person who was the same age as Henderson and shares her birth name was arrested for prostitution in Baltimore on several occasions in 2012.
This person was charged with prostitution, second-degree assault and resisting arrest on Dec. 12, 2012. Court records indicate this person was convicted on the assault charge.”
You did not bother to verify if the person actually was Henderson, but you chose to include this information even though it was in no way relevant to her murder. But this was not the first time you’ve shown poor judgement when reporting on the ruthless murders of one of my fallen sisters. Just last month, when you were reporting on Kandy Hall’s murder you wrote:
“Court records indicate Hall was charged with prostitution four times in Anne Arundel County between 2001-2003. The Baltimore Police Department arrested her twice on prostitution-related charges in 2010. Court records also note Hall was charged with robbery, theft, trespassing, possession of marijuana, driving with an expired license and other minor offenses in Anne Arundel, Howard and Wicomico Counties since 1991.”
As a fellow writer I am a lover of words; words are extremely important to me. Words send a message and words matter. What you did by adding irrelevant information about the victim of a hate crime is character assignation. By highlighting the fact that they may or may not have engaged in sex work what you are saying is something like this: they were murdered but it doesn’t really matter because they were just a pair of ‘tranny hookers’.
As a trans woman of color who HAS engaged in sex work I am deeply offended and frankly pissed off that the Washington Blade, out of all papers, agreed on more then one occasion to publish your articles. If you had to include the sex work that they may or may not have engaged in, then maybe you should also have included the plight and pain that trans women of color face on a daily bases. Report on how trans women of color often face insurmountable levels of discrimination and violence. Include how trans women of color are often forced into the sex trade due to this systemic discrimination and that because of this we are more vulnerable to violence. For many women, but especially for trans women of color, sex work isn’t prostitution, it’s survival.-WORDS MATTER
By painting an unbalanced portrait of a person you not only degrade them, you dehumanize them. This dehumanization is what enables people to call out “that’s a dude” when a trans woman walks down the street. When you go as far back as two decades to rehash irrelevant information from someone’s past to paint an unbalanced picture of that person’s life you are facilitating a culture that deems trans women of color as inferior and unworthy of justice. -WORDS MATTER
Just last week I left my job at the DC Rape Crisis Center and got on the green line at the Fort Totten Metro. I made it home ok, but ten minutes after I got on that train another trans woman, much younger than me, did not make it home that night. -WORDS MATTER
Mr. Lavers to you I pose a question. Even if these “minor offenses” hadn’t happened 20+ years ago and had happened 20 months or even 20 days ago, what would it matter? Does engaging in sex work make someone unworthy of humanity and of justice? A woman was murdered, unjustly and violently murdered. She was someone’s daughter, she was someone’s friend, she brought laughter and joy to people’s lives, and she was a strong and resilient woman. To focus on anything, ANYTHING other than that in the wake of their death is unprofessional and uncouth.
I am a woman that sits at the intersections of race, poverty, gender and personal economy. I am a woman who has engaged in survival sex work, a woman that is able to walk every day in her truth because of women like Mia Henderson and Kandy Hall and so many other ones who bravely walked in their realness and died doing so. Next Transgender Day of Remembrance ask yourself, what did I do to make this happen and what can I do to ensure that this never happens again?
Because WORDS DO MATTER.