We Got It Wrong

Why accurate representation matters.

UPDATE: Initial reports incorrectly identified Kenneth Bostick as a transgender woman. We have updated this story to indicate he was a trans man.

When a crime happens—especially a violent crime—details can be sparse, and the media can rush to get the story out before getting it right.

Last week we reported on the death of Kenneth Bostick, believed to be the tenth trans person murdered in the U.S. so far this year. Working on early news reports, we misgendered Kenneth as a trans woman. In subsequent days, friends have stepped forward to give a more accurate representation of his identity.

While our mistake was made without malice, it was a mistake nonetheless. Too many times crimes against transgender people are misreported and their identities are erased. Sometimes that’s out of ignorance, but too often it’s because family members don’t want to be “embarrassed” or authorities don’t want to acknowledge the epidemic of anti-trans violence. One in four trans people has faced a bias-driven assault in this country, and 2016 saw more murders of trans people than any other.

But it’s also about shaping a narrative: We, like most outlets, reported that Bostick’s death was the tenth murder of a trans woman of color in 2017. While it’s important to acknowledge that, it also drives a narrative about who is at risk and who needs help. Shelters and other social services are often divided by gender—a trans man housed with cisgender men faces serious threats to their safety and well-being. And that shouldn’t be ignored, either.

And lastly, it’s about human beings: It’s easy to boil a person down to the particulars of their death, to paint them as just another victim. Especially if they’re not on Facebook or don’t have dozens of selfies on Instagram.

But Kenneth Bostick was a person—he had a life and friends. He made an impact.

“He is the kindest, sweetest, gentlest person that I have ever had the pleasure to know,” said a former case worker. “This is not hyperbole.”

We regret the error and will work to be more accurate in the future. An updated version of the story can be found below the photo.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Police officers keep watch in Times Square following a series of terrorist attacks in Paris on November 14, 2015 in New York City. Security in New York City has increased following the coordinated assault on Paris which ISIS claimed responsibility for. At least 120 people have been killed and over 200 injured, 80 of which seriously.  (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)
Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

A transgender man died last month after suffering a massive blow to the head from a lead pipe. Kenneth Bostick, 59, was discovered unconscious by police on April 25, just blocks from the Chelsea homeless shelter he’d been staying at since March.

Bostick was taken to Bellevue hospital but succumbed to his injuries.

His death marks the tenth murder of a trans person of color so far this year.

Medics didn’t initially suspect foul play, but nearby surveillance video showed a man standing over Bostick’s body. A suspect, 26-year-old Joseph Griffin, has been arrested in conjunction with the attack.

Griffin is currently being held on $25,000 bail.

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