One of the first news reports about the fatal stabbing of 21-year-old London Chanel inside a North Philly row home on May 18 made a crucial mistake: Chanel, a transgender woman, was called a man and referred to using the male pronouns “he” and “his.”
Nellie Fitzpatrick, the city’s director of LGBT Affairs, immediately went into action, making sure police officials knew of the error and then contacting the city’s TV and radio stations. Chanel, who also went by the name London Banks, should be referred to using female pronouns, she told them. To not do so, as she wrote in an email to a reporter, would be to “misgender her.”
“I am desperately trying to get ahead of this misreporting, misidentification and ensure that her identity is reported with dignity and respect,” Fitzpatrick wrote.
Words matter, LGBT activist Deja Alvarez said. The fact that Fitzpatrick and Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner/LGBT liaison Kevin Bethel immediately took steps to correct the mistake — and that media outlets were eager to comply — is a big step forward for the community.
“That’s all about respect. For trans people, using the proper pronoun, acknowledging who we are, is the single most important thing you can do,” Alvarez said. “If you run to a police officer and the first thing he says is, ‘Are you a man or a woman?’ it’s a sign of disrespect. [But] if you make an effort, or at least ask which pronoun we use, that’s an automatic sign of respect. If you show us that, that allows us to put our defenses down and say, ‘This person is safe.’”
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