Lorena Escalera, a trans woman of color from Brooklyn, died over the weekend in an apartment fire that police are currently investigating as suspicious. The New York Times chose to start its coverage of Escalera’s story like this:
She was 25 and curvaceous, and she often drew admiring glances in the gritty Brooklyn neighborhood where she was known to invite men for visits to her apartment, her neighbors and the authorities said.
The sensationalism continues:
Called Lorena, she brought two men to her apartment, at 43 Furman Avenue in Bushwick, either late Friday night or in the early hours of Saturday, the police said. About 4 a.m., a fire broke out in the apartment. A passer-by ran into the four-story building and began banging on doors, according to Meta Green, a neighbor. In the ensuing chaos, everyone seemed to emerge from the building — except Lorena.
Notice “Called Lorena” as though there’s some skepticism over her name, presumably because she had transitioned genders. Her name was Lorena Escalera as the NYT piece later admits the police identified her as such. There was no need for this sideswipe.
The article goes further though, highlighting details from local residents that have no place being in a suspicious fire report:
Oscar Hernandez, 30, a mechanic, said she had had some of her ribs removed in an effort to slim her waist.
“For a man, he was gorgeous,” Mr. Hernandez said, noting Ms. Escalera’s flowing hair and “hourglass figure.”
This has no relevance to her tragic death and is included only for prurient interest it would seem.
The NYT piece then seems to take the fact that Escalera was an escort and was also part of a group of trans entertainers as an excuse to literally pick through the remains of her “colorful” life:
A debris pile outside the apartment, which is above a funeral home, contained many colorful items. Among them were wigs, women’s shoes, coins from around the world, makeup, hair spray, handbags, a shopping bag from Spandex House, a red feather boa and a pamphlet on how to quit smoking.
Police are still investigating the cause of the fire and, at the time of writing, the whereabouts of Ms. Escalera’s two male companions remains unknown.
After bloggers such as Autumn Sandeen began calling out this piece as dehumanizing and salacious, GLAAD reached out to The New York Times to try and impress upon them what is so very wrong with this write-up.
New York Times Metro Editor Carolyn Ryan is reported to have responded to GLAAD with the following:
“We typically try to capture the personal stories of those whose lives are lost in a fire, and we sought to do so in this case. We certainly did not mean any disrespect to the victim or those who knew her. But, in retrospect, we should have shown more care in our choice of words.”
The NYT has said that this will be all they will be saying regarding this incident. GLAAD, however, disputes that this can be so easily brushed off:
The decision by writers Al Baker and Nate Schweber to call her “curvaceous” in the first sentence was not a poor choice of words. It was a poor choice of focus. The way this entire article is framed comes directly from an idea that transgender women are curiosities.
Indeed, this eskewing of the issue just doesn’t cut it.
At a time when:
- state and Congressional lawmakers regularly stand up during debates over trans-inclusive nondiscrimination laws and trot out the “men in women’s bathrooms” scare tactic;
- twenty-six percent of trans people report having experienced some type of physical assault related to their gender expression and over 90% have experienced discrimination with high levels of homelessness and joblessness across the board;
- trans people are more than three times more likely to be the victim of a bias motivated crime;
- trans identifying individuals are the subject of media sneers and religious right protests simply because they are included in a national television show
–you do not get to brush this off as just a poor choice of words.
The New York Times chose to sensationalize a trans woman’s life and her death. The NYT must recognize that fact and it must apologize not for the way it said something, but for the fact that details like these appeared at all.
Sign the Care2 petition and let The New York Times know that their treatment of Lorena Escalera’s story isn’t acceptable.