The team at Stand With Trans was devastated to learn of the shooting at Covenant School in Nashville on March 27. We were horrified for the victims and their families, and we believe that all kids deserve to be protected, especially from gun violence perpetrated by adults. We also believe that school staff deserve to be able to do their jobs without the looming threat of violence hanging over their heads.
Given the irresponsible way the media chose to report on the alleged shooter, we were also terrified for our community and the trans youth we serve. Rushed, shoddy reporting by members of the media who were only looking for a sensational headline to drive web traffic to their sites compounded the problem. By mishandling this news story in various ways — deadnaming the shooter, rushing to report that the attacker was transgender and then misreporting the attacker’s gender identity, and still, a full week later, failing to correct much of that information — our trans community was placed at an even greater risk than they already are.
Because of the way this news story was reported and sensationalized, within hours two troubling hashtags were trending on twitter: #TransTerrorism and #TransDayOfVengeance. Conservative politicians (especially Marjorie Taylor Greene) and news commentators like Tucker Carlson rushed to blame this shooting exclusively on the shooter’s trans identity, pointing to their hormone treatments as a source of “rage” (we don’t know if the shooter was on HRT, but we do know that HRT does not cause murderous rampages). They also called for targeted attacks against “dangerous” trans people while simultaneously calling for us as a whole to be disarmed. Internet trolls and online conservatives had a field day calling for the execution of trans people as an act of revenge for what they were led to believe was an attack on Christianity — all because of the way this news was handled.
These failures are shameful and unacceptable.
There are mass shootings nearly every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. Nearly all of those shootings were committed by cisgender men, most of whom are white. However, those headlines, if those incidents were even reported on, did not read “Cis White Person Shoots Students.” So why, we wonder, was the gender identity of the Covenant School shooter so heavily emphasized? What statements were the media outlets trying to make, and did they think of the harm they were causing by focusing on the shooter’s trans identity rather than focusing on the tragedy at hand? Why does this follow a troubling pattern of the media repeatedly misgendering and misnaming transgender victims of hate crimes? Why is it so hard for members of the media to point out that the real issue is America’s gun culture and a toxic, anti-trans internet culture that breeds these kinds of tragedies?
It is a journalist’s responsibility to get the story right, and it is our responsibility as citizens to hold them accountable when they don’t. We live in a fast paced world, but that does not excuse the harm done to the trans community when the shooter’s specific description as a trans person is inconsistent and incorrect, like it has been after the Nashville shooting. It is irresponsible and inaccurate.
A week has gone by and there’s still very little clarity, much less an apology for rushed clickbait-style reporting. All the while, the danger that constantly hangs over the trans community has intensified, with even more right-wing hysteria. At a time when trans people are perpetually under attack by politicians and Fox News, and when transphobic hate crimes are at all-time highs, we did not need any additional vilification encouraging people to claim our lives or discriminate against us.
If you are a reporter and you do not have all of the facts, we suggest only reporting on the concrete facts that you have at that moment. We also ask that you maintain an awareness of the way your content affects people all across the country — your article would not have lost its impact if you decided that the shooter’s trans identity was not the main focus of this story but, instead, that gun violence was. Three slain 9 year olds and three murdered school staffers is newsworthy enough on its own. Additionally, experts have repeatedly suggested that not publicizing the name and personal details/views of shooters prevents future violence from copycats and fanatics, advice which seems to fall on deaf ears with each shooting. As you may have noted, we haven’t once named the shooter in this piece, and our message has not lost its meaning or context.
Regardless of someone’s actions or how people personally feel about an individual, all trans people deserve to be gendered accurately and respectfully, whether they are a victim or an aggressor. This is non-negotiable — we tell people that you don’t need to like or understand someone to respect their identity. If that’s easy enough for children to understand, then it should be simple enough for adults to comprehend too.
If we’re going to focus on the terrible actions of a transgender person with a gun, let us also focus on the terrible actions of cisgender people with guns. Let’s make it a point to note that this was one incident out of hundreds of other incidents where the shooter was not transgender. Better yet, let’s focus on the common factor: assault-style guns in the hands of people who lack the training, emotional regulation and mental stability to responsibly handle firearms designed for literal war. Let’s talk about how easy it is to buy and wield a gun in a state like Tennessee that has permitless carry. Let’s talk about the facts.