From Debbie Fox to Rachel Byrk: The Importance of Mainstream Media Reporting on Trans Suicides

Lexie Cannes’ article “Recent spate of transgender suicides: An actual increase or more awareness?” really got me thinking about how problematic tracking suicide is. Lexie is right, mainstream media is extremely selective in regards to which suicides are deemed to be newsworthy enough. I feel that this is especially true of trans suicides and the issue is further complicated by misgendering from family, friends, and police, which leads to unfathomable amounts of deaths going unknown.

I decided to hit Google over the past few days to see just how many reported trans suicides I could find using some basic search terms. At first, I focused primarily on the last 6-months or so leading up to and following Leelah’s story coming to light, but after stumbling across a handful of unshared blog posts and long forgotten message boards I was shocked at just how many there actually have been in just the past couple of years. So many people have been forgotten in current discussion, their names buried in the shuffle of more recent reports.

It was then that I started to look further and further back and after a few hours it became painfully clear that reported trans suicides prior to 2013 were incredibly sparse. Interestingly enough, prior to reports on the high profile suicide of transgender teacher Lucy Meadows, following her being outted through the publication of a brutally discriminatory and transphobic article from Richard Littlejohn of Daily Mail, I honestly could not find even close to as many reports as we are seeing right now.

So, what does this mean? Is there a spike? Here are the reported trans suicides that I have been able to find so far in my search:

It is in my opinion that what we are seeing is a huge spike not in suicides, but in awareness of them, as well as LONG overdue public discourse. Just look at Kaitlin “Kate” Laffitte, a young trans woman who was studying engineering at UNC-Charlotte (the same school Blake Brockington attended) when she committed suicide on campus on May 3, 2013. Aside from a Facebook event page for a candle vigil, a short write up and 51 second video on Time Warner Cable News Charlotte (which I had to find by searching the archives of the site itself), as well as one small Tumblr post written by somebody who attended the gathering, that is more or less all you will find on Kate. Her death isn’t plastered on thousands of news sites/blogs, there was no #HerNameWasKate campaign on social media, no beautiful artwork of her floating around on Tumblr, no photos of her on any trans remembrance pages, and after she had died there was no national dialogue on how her suicide, or other potential trans suicides, could have been prevented.

Compare the coverage of and public  reaction to Kaitlin Laffitte’s death in 2013 with the response we’ve seen to Leelah Alcorn (as well as every reported suicide since) and you get a very, very different picture. Trans suicides always have been a major issue and continue to be a major issue. What’s different now is that everyone from world leaders to your next door neighbor is FINALLY starting to recognize and inform themselves on the adversity that trans, GNC, and/or intersex individuals face. And that is undeniably encouraging more people to come out, which in turn is leading to even deeper conversation on just how diverse gender really is. It is a beautiful thing to behold and I sincerely thank everybody, from Laverne Cox to you reading this at home, as well as the countless trans activists and advocates who are no longer with is, for being part of this progress.

Of course, none of this lessons the very real and profound losses of life that have already occurred. Nothing will bring any of them back and it is heartbreaking to know that so many felt so alone, so afraid, so hopeless, and vulnerable amidst constant discrimination, harassment, intimidation, invalidation, and violence. What we can do is honor their memory, work to understand and address the complex issues that contributed to their death, and ensure that they are NOT forgotten.

If you haven’t read through the links attached to each and every one of the names listed above, please make sure that you take the time to do so. As a community, I truly feel that it is of the utmost importance that we make ourselves aware of the many complex issues that contributed to these suicides so that we are more aware of where more focus and support is needed. While news of trans suicides are always tragic, I feel that the visibility of these reports through mainstream media has the potential to inspire profound social and legislative change. Just look at how the widespread coverage and awareness of Leelah Alcorn’s suicide empowered a movement to end conversion therapy.

Then on Transgender Day of Remembrance this November, please include this list in your vigil. Omitting those lost to suicide, to me, stigmatizes suicide even further, potentially discourages those with suicidal thoughts from talking about it, and just generally does a great disservice to us all.

If you or anyone you know are exhibiting warning signs of suicide please do not hesitate to contact PLEASE call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (in the US) or 877-330-6366 (in Canada).

 

You can follow Nillin on Twitter or read their award winning blog, Derby Frontier.

Nillin is the owner and operator of Derby Frontier, a blog focused on the culture, community, and gender politics of flat track roller derby; which recently won 2nd Place in the LGBT category and 3rd Place in the Sports & Recreation category of the 2014 Canadian Weblog Awards.

Outside of blogging, Nillin is passionately involved with trans activism across southern Saskatchewan, Canada. They are currently residing in Moose Jaw where they serve as Gender Diversity Representative on the board of directors for Moose Jaw Pride, chairperson of the Moose Jaw Trans Awareness Committee, and they regularly provide gender and sexual diversity presentations to the community.

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One Response to From Debbie Fox to Rachel Byrk: The Importance of Mainstream Media Reporting on Trans Suicides

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