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How Deadnaming Factors Into Police Investigations Involving Transgender Women


We're going to take the next few minutes to consider the practice of deadnaming. A transgender person is deadnamed when they get called by their birth name even if they don't use it, even if they haven't used it for years, even if anybody who knows them wouldn't call them by that name. Well, ProPublica took a look at how this practice factors into police investigations involving transgender women in Jacksonville, Fla., and around the country. One of the reporters on this story is Lucas Waldron, who joins us now. Hi, Lucas.


KELLY: So fill us in on what exactly is happening in Jacksonville. Deadnaming, I gather, has been an issue in a number of murder cases there.

WALDRON: Yeah, absolutely. So in Jacksonville this year, there has actually been four shootings of transgender women, three of which were fatal. And in all of those cases, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office used a name and/or a gender that these women did not identify with. So they called these women men, and they often released names that no one really knew them by, names that they hadn't gone by, in many cases, for years.

KELLY: And there are practical implications to this, right? If you're trying to solve a crime and you're a cop out walking the street, say, trying to find an eyewitness and you're saying did you see this guy when everybody on the street would know this person as a woman, for example.

WALDRON: Yeah, exactly. That's one of the biggest problems that we've heard from folks in the community, both in Jacksonville and actually all around the country where this problem is happening. When police are investigating murders of transgender people, if they are going around saying a name that nobody knows, using a pronoun that folks didn't know that person by, you can see how there might be really big impacts on the investigation. And folks in the community who knew that person might not be able to provide the information needed to actually solve that case.

KELLY: Police might argue, hey, we're law enforcement officers. We are just calling people by their legal names, the legal name listed on, say, their driver's license.

WALDRON: Sure. Yeah. That's a common response from police that we've heard. And I think there are two parts to that question. The first is that there actually are law enforcement agencies that are making an effort to use the preferred name and pronoun of transgender victims during their investigations. Places like the Dallas Police Department had said that it actually makes their investigations much easier if they go to the community and use a name that folks actually recognize and that they knew their friend by. And then the second part to that is the laws are so confusing for trans folks to actually access an ID change in this country. So though police may say it's only their responsibility to use the name and the gender on an ID, there's a bigger picture, which is that it's very, very difficult to update your ID in many states in the United States. And that's a huge barrier that needs to be addressed structurally but also by police departments.

KELLY: Can you definitively make a link between this practice of deadnaming and cases not being solved?

WALDRON: Sure. So it's a good question, and one of the big issues that ties into that is we looked into every reported murder of a transgender person in the United States since January 2015.


WALDRON: We found 85 murders, and we know that there are more murders than just those 85, but because of deadnaming and misgendering, we often don't even know that there are trans people being killed. So of the reported murders that we know of, there are 85, and in 74 cases of those 85, the victim was misgendered or deadnamed by the police. So that's a pretty high number, and we can't necessarily say for sure that deadnaming leads to fewer arrests in these cases, but we can look anecdotally at some of these cases. For example, in Jacksonville, three transgender women have been murdered, and all of those cases are unsolved.

KELLY: So what is the takeaway here for you?

WALDRON: The takeaway here for me, I think, is that the biggest impact that I've seen talking to trans women all across this country is it just increases their distrust in the police and makes them feel like their lives don't matter. And they say that it feels dehumanizing to have this practiced so rampantly.

KELLY: That's Lucas Waldron, reporter from ProPublica. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

WALDRON: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.