May 1, 2013 at 5:48 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Activists condemn media coverage of Ohio murder
Cemia Ce Ce Acoff, transgender, Cleveland, murder, gay news, Washington Blade

Cemia ‘Ce Ce’ Acoff, a 20-year-old transgender woman and Cleveland resident, was found stabbed to death on April 17 in Olmsted Township, Ohio. Police say her body had been tethered to a block of concrete and dumped into the pond. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

LGBT activists were scheduled to hold a protest rally and memorial tribute outside the Cleveland City Hall Wednesday afternoon in response to the murder of a 20-year-old transgender woman whose body was identified April 29 by police in the Cleveland suburb of Olmsted Township.

Olmsted Township police said the initially unidentified body of Cemia “Ce Ce” Acoff was found April 17 tethered to a concrete block and dumped in a pond. The body was found about three weeks after Cleveland police announced Acoff had been reported missing by family members.

According to Olmsted police, Acoff had been stabbed multiple times and her body was found naked from the waist down. Police responded to a call from a nearby resident, who saw the body in what police described as a retention pond.

“The Olmsted Township Police Department has been working around the clock on this investigation, and will continue to diligently pursue all leads,” Police Chief John Minek said in a statement. “I have dedicated two senior members of the department (Lt. Vanyo and Det. Sonneborn) to this investigation. Since this is an active investigation, we cannot comment any further on any details pertaining to this investigation.”

Mineck told reporters the case remains open and that several detectives were investigating the murder. He declined to say whether any suspects have been identified.

The local news media, including TV stations and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, initially identified Acoff only by her legal name, Carl Acoff, which was released by police. Media reports repeatedly referred to her as “he,” even though authorities reported the body was found dressed in female clothes.

The national LGBT advocacy group Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the state LGBT rights group Equality Ohio, the group Trans Ohio, and the Cleveland LGBT Community Center criticized what they called a display of blatant insensitivity by the mainstream media in its coverage of Acoff’s murder.

Among other things, the groups complained that media stories referred to Acoff’s body as being “oddly dressed” and reported extensively on court records showing she had a history of several misdemeanor arrests in Cleveland that were unrelated to the murder.

“Acoff’s criminal record is almost certainly irrelevant to the story, especially when provided without any context concerning the trans community and law enforcement,” GLAAD’s director of news and field media Aaron McQuade said in a statement.

The Plain Dealer reported that in January 2012 Acoff pleaded no contest and was found guilty by a judge of “possession of dangerous drugs involving hormones.” She was sentenced to 100 days in jail and fined $1,000, the Plain Dealer reported.

Transgender activists have said transgender people in the process of transitioning from male to female who don’t have the resources to obtain a doctor’s prescription for the hormones needed for the transition sometimes resort to the black market to get the drugs.

In a separate case, Acoff was charged with assault for squirting Mace in a man’s face while riding on a bus, the Plain Dealer reported. Activists said the newspaper should have explained that transgender people are often the target of violent attacks by assailants hostile to gender identity and that Acoff could have used the Mace in self-defense.

Other media outlets reported that Acoff appeared to identify as both female and male at different times, including when interacting with Cleveland police.

“The truth is, when someone like Cemia appears to identity as female sometimes and male other times, it’s because it’s still socially unacceptable (and often dangerous) to be transgender,” McQuade said in the GLAAD statement.

“The fact that some people in Acoff’s life didn’t know she sometimes identified as female, and the fact that her legal identification might not have reflected her gender identity, doesn’t change the fact that she was a transgender woman,” McQuade said in the statement.

GLAAD and the other groups said they have urged news media outlets to follow the Associated Press guidelines in covering the transgender community, which call for referring to transgender people by the gender with which they identify and by the name that reflects that gender.

“Also very disturbing is the fact that no report would lead readers to believe police are working diligently to find the murderer,” said David Badash in the New Civil Rights Movement blog.

“Not one report stated police are asking for assistance or seeking help in finding her killer,” he said. “The murder was a heinous crime, the mis-gender identification by news media organizations who have not taken the time to learn how to report on issues related to transgender people is offensive.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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