A transgender woman in Houston has been misgendered by police and local media after her body was discovered on Wednesday morning in an apparent homicide.
Brandi Seals, 26, was found at 6am on Dec. 13 after neighbors heard gunshots. Initial reports from KRIV, the local Fox affiliate, say little about the circumstances surrounding Seals’ death or whether there was a struggle prior to the shooting. There’s little information provided about the number of bullets fired or whether the victim was killed instantly in the attack.
The news bulletin repeatedly refers to Seals with male pronouns, calling the victim “a person born a male and transitioning into a female.”
Local police also misgendered Seals in news reports.
“The fact that we have a man in women’s clothing,” Detective Fil Waters with the Houston Police Department tells KRIV. “The speculation is he’s been working the street, that someone picks up and then realizes he’s not what he’s representing himself to be and take this kind of ultimate action.”
Monica Roberts, a trans blogger based in Houston who posts on the popular website TransGriot, had a “serious problem” with the way Seals’ death was presented by local media, as she wrote in response to the report. She called it “horribly botched.”
“Brandi is not a ‘he’ or a ‘man,’” Roberts said. “She is a transgender woman.”
“The initial reporting was so horrible [Fox 26 journalist John Donnelly] neglected to get Brandi’s age, or say in the story where her body was found,” Roberts continued. “A mere blogger found that out doing the basic 101 level reporting he failed to do. But he sure had no trouble misgendering Brandi or shadily injecting prostitution into it.”
Donnelly claims that Seals was both a sex worker and an addict, writing that she was selling her body to “to pay for the transition treatments and possibly drugs.”
Although the headline identifies the victim as transgender, the actual reporting seems to suggest that Seals was confused about her gender identity. Donnelly claims that Seals’ family “knew of his [sic] struggles and accepted him [sic] for who he [sic] was and who he [sic] was becoming but will now never be.”
LGBTQ advocates condemned the reporting as news of her death spread on Thursday.
“I am saddened and torn by the loss of another trans woman this year, and the 4th here in Texas in 2017,” Lou Weaver, Transgender Programs Coordinator at Equality Texas, tells INTO in a statement. “The trans community deserves better than to be harassed and demeaned during life and equally so upon death.”
Roberts claims that Seals was the 24th transgender person killed in 2017, but the number varies in different reports on her murder. A story in The Advocate claimed Seals was the 26th trans murder victim so far this year, while NewNowNext identified her as number 27.
Because transgender individuals are so often misgendered in initial reports, reliable data can be difficult to come by.
Many have claimed that 2017 set a new benchmark as the deadliest year on record for trans people in the U.S., but it’s difficult to determine based on last year’s data. The Human Rights Campaign claimed that 23 transgender victims lost their lives to violence in 2016, while GLAAD reported that 27 trans people were killed.
The media watchdog group estimates that Seals was the 26th transgender person murdered this year and calls upon journalists to improve coverage of trans lives.
“The media must do a better job of reporting these murders and bringing needed attention to a community under vicious and violent attack,” says GLAAD Director of Transgender Media & Representation Nick Adams. “In order for people to be aware of the horrific violence affecting the community, the public needs to know it is happening.”
“The media has a responsibility to communicate about the deadly realities faced by transgender people,” he continues.
A pair of vigils are being planned in Seals’ honor. Dee Dee Watters, a local trans organizer in Houston, is hosting a memorial on Thursday evening at the Sunnyside home where Seals was killed. Another event will be held on Friday at Houston City Hall.