NYT Focuses On How ‘Curvaceous’ Dead Trans Woman Was


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:

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.


Related Reading:

Why Is May 17 International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia?

Rep. Lankford: Being Gay Is A ‘Behavior’ & a ‘Choice Issue’

HAVE YOUR SAY: International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia 2012

Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to 3ammo.


Dale Overall

If a woman who had not been transgendered had died in a fire would the reporter describing her being as "curvaceous", "a stunner" and other beauty related comments like "drop dead gorgeous"? The lifestyle of the individual is not really the issue! This fire occurred under suspicious circumstances meaning this may well have been premeditated resulting in murder so these comments are even more uncalled for!

Grace A.
Grace A5 years ago

@Leiah S., I know you mean well, but don't you mean "This is awful...do they also do that with /other/ dead women???

She was a woman - identified and lived as one, therefore she was - even the police identified her so. The whole point of this article is about the NWT treating her as anything but, and sensationalising her supposed 'otherness'. Please don't follow suit, even while you support her.

Emily B.
Emily Bignell5 years ago

Shame on NYT! Disgusting transphobic article. :(

Deborah F.
Deborah F5 years ago


Leiah Sariell
Leiah Sariell5 years ago

This is awful...do they also do that with dead women???

Jennifer P.
Jennifer P5 years ago

This was awful treatment of a human victim of a fire. Even if Lorena had been an originally female escort, they NYT would not have treated her death this way.

Alison A.
Alison A5 years ago

Thanks for posting.

paul grabenstein
paul grabenstein5 years ago

"where she was known to invite men for visits to her apartment,"

When a man dies is this ever mentioned: "Known to invite women for visits to his apartment"?

Mignone Borg Catania

Thanks for sharing.

Veronica C.
Veronica C5 years ago

That's pretty sick to say about someone who is dead.