The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has published a statement in objection to the New York Times coverage of the Brooklyn fire that killed Lorena Escalera this past weekend.
Early Saturday morning, a fire broke out in Escalera's apartment in a building on 43 Furman Avenue in Bushwick, according to a May 12 New York Times report. Though everyone else in the building managed to escape to safety, Escalera was found unconscious and unresponsive after firefighters extinguished the blaze. She was subsequently declared dead at the scene.
The 25-year-old Escalera, who is believed to have been a transgender woman, had reportedly brought two men to her apartment late Friday night, according to police speaking to the Times. The report claimed the fire had been deemed suspicious but that no accelerants had yet been found in Escalera's apartment. According to a witness, the two men who had visited with Escalera were arguing in front of the building while the fire raged.
The GLAAD blog post, written by Aaron McQuade, claims the report treats Escalera completely disrespectfully. He criticizes the Times reporters for providing commentary about Escalera's physique, pointing to the story lede: She was 25 and curvaceous, and she often drew admiring glances in the gritty Brooklyn neighborhood where she was known to invite men for visits to her apartment, her neighbors and the authorities said.
McQuade's statement also takes issue with the report's language, which states Escalera was called Lorena (vs. stating her name without qualification.)
As McQuade points out, the Times report also described some of Escalera's personal affects in curious detail:
A debris pile outside the apartment...contained many colorful items. Among them were wigs, women's shoes, coins from around the world, makeup, hair spray, handbags, a shopping bag from Spandex House, a red feather boa and a pamphlet on how to quit smoking.
McQuade describes the Times article extremely exploitative, and believes the coverage would be different had Escalera not been a transgender woman.
Would the New York Times ever describe a woman who is not transgender, who had died in a fire, as curvaceous - in the first sentence, no less?, McQuade asked. Would it carefully note that her apartment contained makeup and women's shoes? Would it say that she was called whatever her name was - especially if police later identified her by that name?
The post claims GLAAD would be reaching out to the Times to to discuss the many incident reports we received, and to ensure that exploitative pieces like this don't get printed in the future.
McQuade's post was published on Monday morning, and the report does not appear to have been modified in response. On Monday afternoon, GLAAD tweeted a message with a link to the post to the main New York Times Twitter account and the Metro Section account. #Trans exploitation article is completely unacceptable, reads the message in the tweet.
Neither New York Times Twitter account has posted a reply to the message from GLAAD.