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Brianna Ghey Murder Coverage Shows Even in Death, British Media Can’t Respect Trans People

Floral tributes are left as police attend the scene where 16-year-old Brianna Ghey was found with multiple stab wounds on a path at Linear Park in Culcheth.

After 16-year-old trans teenager Brianna Ghey was murdered on Saturday, the transphobic U.K. press couldn’t wait to deadname her and go out of their way to imply that her murder couldn’t have been a hate crime—despite her having faced years of documented transphobic harassment prior to her death.

Headlines oscillated between completely avoiding mention of Brianna’s trans status and referring to her only as “transgender girl” while asserting “there’s no evidence” her murder was a hate crime.

The content of the articles wasn’t much better, either, again avoiding mention of Brianna’s trans identity or describing it in a transphobic manner. Several informed their readership of her deadname, something that in no way serves the public interest and merely acts to disrespect Brianna further in death.

Those articles that did acknowledge her trans status made no mention of the years of harassment she had faced, instead misleadingly sharing parts of the police statement—that her murder is not currently being treated as a hate crime, that they have no evidence yet that it might be—in ways that implied it was conclusively not a hate crime rather than that the investigation is just in too early a stage for the police to say, and the lack of an out and out confession left on her body.

Of the few articles that did acknowledge that the police had yet to establish a motive and “were keeping an open mind,” most managed to decontextualize this from the rest of the statement, implying that while the police were still looking for a motive, that motive couldn’t have been transphobia or transmisogyny. However, this is far from the case, and while the police, who are well known for being transphobic along with the media, may well have already, at least privately, disregarded the possibility that Brianna’s murder was a hate crime, there’s no reason for them to have done so. In fact, the years of harassment and the transphobic media-fueled rise in hate crimes against trans people in this country make it more likely than not.

But the counterpoint in a media environment that demonizes trans people is refusing to acknowledge the very real violence and danger they face. When bad things happen to them and the media can’t get away with ignoring it, it must either be turned around and made their own fault, or turned into something completely decontextualized from their trans identity—a random tragedy, so sad, nothing to do with the rising tide of hatred trans people face every day for simply living their lives. Except it’s not true and it never will be, and while we don’t know for certain yet that Brianna’s murder was a hate crime, it would be absurd to disregard it as the most likely possibility.

Though public pressure appears to have forced The Times to make further revisions to their article, removing Brianna’s deadname and referring to her as a girl once again, transphobia continues to dominate the way Brianna is being spoken about in death—including the way she’ll be referred to on her death certificate and grave stone.

The U.K. government’s refusal to grant gender recognition certificates to under-18s on the grounds that they’re too young—which is strange as they’re legally old be turned out of their parents’ homes without possibility of foster care once they turn 16 in England and Wales—means that girls like Brianna Ghey aren’t recognized as such under the law or on official documents.

The infantilisation of trans children, even ones the state considers old enough to live independently of their legal guardians, has not only made it harder for them to access gold standard affirming care like puberty blockers, but also denies them the everyday dignity of being referred to correctly on official documents—something that makes aspects of every day life significantly more difficult and sometimes dangerous.

The fact that Brianna will be recorded as male on her death certificate because she died before reaching an age where the U.K. government are willing to respect a person’s capacity to know themselves is horrific, and exactly what happens to every trans child whose life is cut short by the transphobic environment of this country.

Some trans people and allies are calling for Brianna to be awarded a GRC in death so she can at least be buried under her own name, and with her true gender listed in the records. Given the government’s track record this seems unlikely to succeed, but perhaps it will set some change in motion, if only in how trans children can be referred to on their death certificates—an incredibly grim statement that reflects the grim situation trans children are living with in the U.K.

There’s also a vigil planned in London for Wednesday this week, planned by organizers to hold the Department for Education and the British media responsible for their parts in creating this hostile environment towards trans people, especially trans children. It remains to be seen how The Department of Education will respond.

(featured image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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Siobhan Ball (she/her) is a contributing writer covering news, queer stuff, politics and Star Wars. A former historian and archivist, she made her first forays into journalism by writing a number of queer history articles c. 2016 and things spiralled from there. When she's not working she's still writing, with several novels and a book on Irish myth on the go, as well as developing her skills as a jeweller.