It’s a shame that it took reports of an American Marine suspected of killing a transgender Filipino for us to be particular with how the media tackle transgender issues and, by extension, LGBT issues.
A quick Google search using the search term “Jennifer Laude” will show us an easily corrected but continuously peddled mistake.
In identifying the victim, a network uses “Jeffrey Laude alias ‘Jennifer,’” and another settles for “Jeffrey Laude also known as ‘Jennifer.’” An online news outlet explained its use of the name “Jeffrey Laude” by saying, “We based it on the legal documents. But we acknowledge that Jeffrey Laude was also known as ‘Jennifer,’ as mentioned in the story.”
They “acknowledge” she was “also” known as Jennifer? Excuse us all who raise hell over her name, but she was known to family and friends as Jennifer, and introduced herself as Jennifer. There is no other name she chose to identify with but Jennifer.
How hard is it to say her name?
Some question those who feel strongly about calling Jennifer by her chosen name, when legal documents say otherwise. But the outrage felt by LGBT advocates is not simply over a name. It is about the right to identity and to self-determination.
Article 3 of the Yogyakarta Principles states: “Each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity are integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom.” Drafted and unanimously adopted by 29 distinguished experts from 25 countries with diverse backgrounds and expertise relevant to issues of human rights law, the Yogyakarta Principles address a broad range of human rights standards and their application to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Meanwhile, the LGBT media advocacy organization GLAAD has engaged the New York Times and the Associated Press to produce a style guide that addresses gender inaccuracy and homophobia in the news.
According to GLAAD, “A transgender person’s chosen name should be considered by reporters to be their real name, whether it has been legally changed or not. Often transgender people cannot afford a legal name change, or they live in a community where obtaining correct identification is difficult. All transgender people should be treated as though they have changed their name legally to their chosen name.”
Under no circumstance should a media outlet imply that a transgender’s identity is not real or that it is a lie. If one feels so inclined to mention Jennifer’s legal name, the best way to go about it would be “Jennifer Laude, who was named Jeffrey at birth.”
In one of many heated debates online, one pointed out that the word “transgender” is so misunderstood that it is easy to take that explicit detail as an implication, much like how the words “Chinese” and “black” carry with them a stereotype. In that case, he said, “people are all too ready to see that being transgender invites crime.”
But it is better to have the news reflect this supposed implication—this vulnerability to violence that the LGBT community is subject to—because it is more reflective of the unfortunate reality we live in, than to insist that gender is immaterial in a still patriarchal, still sexist, and, yes, still racist society.
After all, this isn’t the first time a transgender person has fallen victim to a crime, but the media have never been this involved in reporting such a case until now. That the suspect is a member of the US military or that the Philippines has flawed bilateral agreements with the United States is no coincidence. Given that the LGBT community takes, and has always taken, an active role in the Philippines’ political exercise and experiments, someone who identifies as an LGBT is as much of a stakeholder as the rest of society and, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, both are subject to the conditions and contradictions in which the state chooses to engage.
It is unfortunate that a crime like this had to happen if only to highlight the intersectionality between the LGBT struggle and that of society as a whole—if only to remind us that the struggles of LGBTs cannot be addressed in isolation, because their struggle is ours, too.
About two weeks ago, before news about the killing of Jennifer broke, I had a discussion with a reporter of a major news outlet regarding a report involving another transgender victim. I tweeted him my concern over his use of the word “bading” to refer to a transgender person who was brutally murdered, the body found with 18 stab wounds.
The reporter asked me, “What is of high value, labeling or seeking justice for the victim?” But this begs the question of seeking respect being mutually exclusive from seeking justice, and that should not be the case. The concept of human rights rests heavily on our respect for one another.
And when rights are violated, to seek justice is to also seek respect long-denied. If we have to begin with getting the victims’ names and gender identities right, then we should start now.
We’ve delayed long enough.
Marrian Pio Roda Ching, 26, is a human rights advocate who has done work in reproductive health, gender rights, and the Bangsamoro peace process. She says she believes that gender-based violence happens more often than we care to admit, and that class struggles cannot be discussed in isolation from struggles based on gender and ethnicity.
(Published both online and in print on 21 October 2014. This can be found on page A11 of the Philippine Daily Inquirer of the same date, and at http://opinion.inquirer.net/79470/her-name-is-jennifer)