Sunday, July 06, 2008

Family of Murdered Transwoman Seeks Justice

TransGriot Note: Once again, another reporter who didn't crack open the AP Stylebook and read the rules on how to respectfully report on transgender people. I'm editing the original story by Joyce Peterson to follow these rules, since this reporter and others damned sure aren't.

Memphis, TN - Tears well up in Claudia Blair's eyes when she thinks about her 20 year-old cousin, Ebony (Rodney) Whitaker, as a child.

"I used to change his diapers," she says. "He was a good child. How all this ended up...abandoned building, clothes everywhere, condoms...he didn't have to die like that. He didn't."

Claudia and her 19 year-old daughter Porshia, say whoever killed Ebony (Rodney), killed a young man with a heart of gold. A young man, they say, whose family always suspected she was gay.

"Yeah, because we would do cheerleading moves together," says Porshia. "And once when I went over there, Bring It On had just come out and he knew the moves better than the girls in the movie. So I knew he would be different."

Porshia and her mom did not know until after Ebony was found shot to death behind a Southeast Memphis daycare on Tuesday, July 1, 2008, in a parking lot littered with used condoms, that she'd been turning tricks for money since she was 16. They also didn't know she was transgender.

Ebony's mug-shot, taken during a previous arrest for prostitution, shows a beautiful young African-American woman, with reddish streaks in her long blonde hair, arched brows, perfectly applied eyeshadow and lip liner and a gold necklace with tiny butterflies on it.

"When I was 16," says Porshia, "at that age the biggest thing on my mind was what am I gonna wear to school tomorrow, not where am I getting my next meal. It wasn't who am I gonna sleep with or what am I gonna have to wear to sleep with this person. That's just sad."

"Maybe if he had more moral support from his family," says Claudia, "and a place to live and clothes and all that, a lot of the choices he made he might not have made. I would like to tell the person that did this crime, you will not get away with it. Justice will be served."

Ebony's family isn't alone in demanding justice for her murder. The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, a group out of Nashville, paid a visit to Memphis on Tuesday to attend the Memphis City Council meeting.

The TTPC denounced the videotaped police beating of transgender woman Duanna Johnson. Later that day, the group learned of Whitaker's murder. Her death, according to the TTPC, is at least the third transgender hate crime in Memphis to land on their radar. The group is also fighting for justice for Tiffany Berry.

Berry was a Memphis transgender woman who was murdered in February of 2006. The TTPC says Berry's murder was never solved.

The president of the TTPC, Dr. Marisa Richmond, released the following statement on their website: "We consider these two recent crimes (Duanna Johnson's beating and Rodney Whitaker's murder), combined with the unsolved murder of Tiffany Berry, to be unacceptable. The lack of response by the Memphis Police Department has set a tone in the community that the lives of transgender people, especially African-American, are irrelevant."

Hate crime or not, Whitaker's family wants the person who killed Ebony to wind up behind bars.

"I mean, he was a good person," says Porshia. "He had no choice but to do what he did. And it wasn't right for that person to take his life like he did."

"He's a human being," Claudia says. "He deserves justice just like anybody else. He does."

Late Friday, July 4, 2008, Memphis Police said no one was in custody for Whitaker's murder. Investigators have not released a possible motive in the killing.

Claudia thinks one of Ebony's clients got upset when they realized she was transgender.

"I'm thinking he ran across a man," she says, "who wanted female company. And he thought he had a beautiful young lady. And in the midst of the moment, he found out Rodney wasn't a woman and got mad and shot him."

Funeral services for Ebony (Rodney) Whitaker will be Sunday, July 6, 2008 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at M.J. Edwards Funeral Home at 1165 Airways Blvd. Her burial will be the next day, Monday, July 7, 2008 at noon.


Jackie said...

This is horrible, sad. So many young Trans people go the sex work route. So we lose another young person probably because she thought it was her only option. I feel like society failed this child. We have got to do better, especially accepting and most of all protecting these kids in schools.
It's so important to see Transwomen and Transmen living out proud. Thanks Monica, I have no doubt that you show kids that there are other options. Thanks to my friend Alexandra, a true survivor and a role model.
RIP Ebony.

Monica Roberts said...

it's the major reason why I have this hardline attitude towd HRC, Barney Frank and any other person advocating 'incremental progress' on transgender rights.

We need jobs. Passing ENDA with transgender protections will go a long way to cut down tragedies like Ebony's.

Educating people to not toss their transgender kids on the streets for religious reasons will help as well.

nongduu said...

Those two "reporters" in the YouTube clip almost made me sick, the way the talked about the story, the killed sister and transgeder as a whole so ignorantly.
And they are supposed to be of some intellect.

Monica Roberts said...

Nongduu, Jackie,
The heartfelt comments of Ebony's family members were lost in the condescending and ignarant tone of the report.

Calling somebody 'he' when the photographic evidence in front of you says 'she' is to me and many transpeople the equivalent of fingernails dragging across a chalknoard.

Jackie said...

Fingernails dragging across a black board. OMG! You are so right. I once had to harness everything in me not to slap this ignit guy who kept referring to my friend as he, when she was standing right there. He assumed I didn't know and was doing it for my benefit.
Good point about job equality.

Monica Roberts said...

Jackie, Nongduu
When I posted Fredrikka's commentary on the 4th and found a link to the Nakia Baker killing, I stumbled across another egregious reporting job.

Just what are they teaching people in journalism programs these days?

Jackie said...

OMG! OMG! Monica, I have been wondering the same thing! Considering the pitiful news/journalist we see everyday, I wondered what goes on in these classes now. Are they teaching entertainment only journalism? Are investigative reporting and how to conduct an interview classes a thing of the past?