Years and years ago, when Nicholas West was abducted from a park in Tyler and murdered, I was surprised and pleased at the way Tyler law enforcement responded. Donald Aldritch — one of the men convicted of West’s murder who has since been executed for that crime — bragged about his part in the murder, even to police. After all, Nicholas West was just a faggot; who was going to care that he had been killed?
But instead, law enforcement and prosecutors in Tyler and Smith County took it very seriously indeed. They arrested three men — Aldritch, Henry Dunn and David McMillan — and tried and convicted all three. Aldritch and Dunn were sentenced to death and have since been executed. McMillan was sentenced to life in prison.
Last month, when we heard the tragic news about the murder of trans woman Ty Underwood, I was glad to see that once again Tyler Police showed they were making every effort to find her killer. In a world where the murder of trans women, especially trans women of color, happens frequently and too often is more or less ignored by law enforcement, seeing the Tyler PD’s diligence was a welcome change. Today they announced that Carlton Ray Champion has been arrested and charged with Underwood’s murder.
I can’t say the same, though, of Tyler media: Both the Tyler Morning Telegraph and KLTV television station have ignored the fact that Ty Underwood was a transgender woman and have instead referred to her as a man in their coverage of the murder.
KLTV’s online post today about Champion’s arrest totally avoided mentioning Underwood’s gender all together. But an earlier post about her death had an headline referring to Underwood as “he” and in the lead paragraph called her “a Tyler man.” One person quoted in the story, identified only as a friend of Underwood’s named Antonio, used male pronouns in referring to the dead woman. Another friend, Kenya Darks, used female pronouns. But the TV station used male pronouns, as did the Tyler police officer quoted in the story.
Where the TV station may have learned from its early mistakes, the Morning Telegraph continues to refer to Underwood as a man and using her pre-transition male name. The newspaper also seems to be trying to sensationalize the case with a headline referring to the “sexual connotations” of the relationship between Underwood and her killer (police have said the two appeared to have dated for a brief time).
What better proof that, despite the many advances in LGBT rights, we still have so many battles left to fight. And once again it looks like the ones with the biggest battles to fight are our trans brothers and sisters. And just like the LGB parts of our community couldn’t have gotten where we are without allies, the transgender community needs each and every one of us to be an ally for them.
With that in mind, here is the contact info for KLTV, and here is the contact info for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Take a moment to let them know what you think of their coverage of Ty Underwood’s murder.