10 dead trans women* in Toronto

A historical review on Toronto’s media portrayal of fallen trans people





Bluestockings31: wherever you are, here’s a report card.

Below are ten known trans people in Toronto who either were murdered or coerced to suicide (after access to endocrine care was withheld by alleged caregiving institutions — a medical malpractice referred to increasingly as cisnormative gatekeeping).

Each story summarizes how Toronto’s cis journalists reported their deaths, bodies, and narratives. Years between 1978 to 2003 are reviewed. There is cissexism, misogyny, trans misogyny, and professional neglect in every report. Several of the journalists are still well-known.

* Every victim was a woman, or else they voiced themselves with feminine articulations of gender at the time they were murdered. All were designated male at birth (or “DMAB”).


Cassandra Do

Cassandra Do

CASSANDRA DO: murdered, 2003

Who? Cassandra Do, a 32-year-old trans woman of colour (Vietnamese-Canadian)

When? 25 August 2003

Where? At her home, on 60 Gloucester Street (Church Wellesley Village)

How? Manually strangulated, in her bathtub.

Did they find her killer? No. The Toronto Police Service have described the suspect as a black cis man in his late thirties or early forties, 6’3″, at least 230#, muscular, with close-shaved hair and no facial hair. His name may be “Victor”. DNA evidence was collected at the crime scene. A suspect matching the description was wanted for the murder of another Vietnamese-Canadian sex worker, a cis woman, murdered six weeks after Do.

What did the press say about Cassandra? In one lede, the journalist described her as a “transsexual prostitute”, not a woman whose job was sex work. The story added how she was “a male-to-female transsexual” (a label, not a description) and “who lived as a woman” (not a woman).

Reporters printed the vocational name she used with clients. One article added how Ms. Do worked in nursing before moving to sex work, but not before calling her “a transsexual” (the subtext: that having a transsexual body was itself an activity, a vocation).

Every journalist who reported on Ms. Do stressed (repetitively within the same article) how she had not completed or sought genital surgery. Very little in the way of confronting violence against women, or more information about the suspect’s MO, was discussed. At the time, no information on how to contact police with tips was printed.

All articles did, however, describe her consistently with feminine pronouns — a first for reporting on murdered trans women in Toronto.

Ms. Do is the last known trans person to be murdered in Toronto. [Editing note: In 2016, Toronto Police renewed their effort to solve this cold case. Requests for information which may help lead to her killer’s arrest was distributed online.]

The take. Journalists fabricated a narrative on morality which could try to rationalize how Ms. Do probably brought this death on herself, because she was a woman of colour, trans, and had earned her living from sex work — throwing away a more “acceptable” nursing career. No journalist explored whether income from sex work was a means for Do to continue with nursing school.

Sources: [1] Heath-Rawlings, Jordan. 2003. Prostitute strangled, police say. The Globe and Mail, 27 August: p. A15. [2] Lee, Cynthia. 2003. Candlelight vigil held for woman. Toronto Star, 1 September: p. C7. [3] Leeder, Jessica. 2003. Prostitute found strangled to death in home. Toronto Star, 28 August: p. B3. [4] Valpy, Michael. 2003. Prostitutes could be target of killer: police. The Globe and Mail, 6 October: p. A9. [5] Verma, Sonia. 2003. Slain escort seen as protector. Toronto Star, 18 October: p. B1.

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Deanna Wilkinson

Deanna Wilkinson (ID photo)

DEANNA WILKINSON: murdered, 1996

Who? Deanna Wilkinson, a 31-year-old white trans woman

When? 20 May 1996

Where? The laneway adjacent to 61 Homewood Avenue (Church Wellesley Village)

How? She was shot in the head at point-blank range (a Sturm Ruger .357 pistol loaded with hollow-pointed bullets).

Did they find her killer? Yes. His name was Marcello Palma, a cis man.

What did the press say about Deanna? A lot. Several journalists reported on the case, but three opinion columns by Rosie DiManno in particular dehumanized the victims and blamed them for their own deaths (and DiManno was almost sympathetic, even apologetic for the murderer).

Ms. Wilkinson, a poet, was one of three sex workers murdered on the night of Victoria Day, May 20th. A gender-non-conforming kid named Shawn Keegan, nicknamed Junior (see the next entry), was murdered minutes earlier on the same street Ms. Wilkinson was killed. A third sex worker, a cis woman named Brenda Ludgate, was murdered on King Street West.

All three murders made front-page headlines on May 22nd. This was the only time the murder of a known trans woman (or gender-non-conforming person) made the front page of a Toronto daily newspaper, probably because the death toll and the spree killer’s whereabouts being unknown were extraordinary. The Toronto Star reported Ms. Wilkinson initially as “an unidentified transvestite prostitute in his [sic] late teens or early twenties.”

Despite reaching consensus that Ms. Wilkinson was a trans woman, the Toronto Star largely maintained the use of masculine pronouns and hid her name in parentheses or scare quotes (or not using it at all) while emphasizing her dead name — for instance, as “Thomas (Deanna) Wilkinson” or “Thomas ‘Deanna’ Wilkinson”. At times, she was only referred to as “Thomas” or “Tom”. Masculine pronouns were used, particularly at first. The extremely offensive T-word was referred to frequently.

The Globe and Mail did much the same. It produced a narrative in which trans people were the root cause problem, not the victims of intersectional marginalization and deprivation of citizenship:

I think it’s going to happen sooner or later (that a transvestite [sic] would be killed because of) how people feel about these transvestites,” said Nick Thompson-Wood, owner of Homewood Inn bed-and-breakfast.

On May 29th, John Barber, writing for the Globe, wrote an analysis which referred to Ms. Wilkinson with her dead name. Barber made an attempt to examine the root causes of prostitution with respect to both law and social resistance. Bruce DeMara (who reported on Grayce Baxter’s murder in 1992) and Moira Welsh quoted one person who referred to Ms. Wilkinson as “it” (without correcting the context). Other trans women were interviewed for the story, and masculine pronouns were used (likely without their consent).

Several reporters were brought into the story, including Jim Rankin (who, like DeMara, reported on Ms. Baxter’s murder). Rankin and Dale Brazao identified Ms. Wilkinson as “Thomas Wilkinson, a transsexual who went by the name ‘Deanna’,” adding later how she was “a male [sic] transsexual.” Brazao and Welsh, in a separate file, said, “his [sic] friends refused to believe that the 31-year-old transsexual taking hormones in preparation for a sex change and known as Deanna knew she was about to die” (note: feminine and masculine pronouns were used by the reporters to describe her in the same passage).

Reporter Theresa Boyle was the first journalist to refer to Ms. Wilkinson with feminine pronouns. Reporter Paula Todd, a reporter, editorialized between the lines of her file: “Their wardrobe, their lifestyles, the grimy street coffin in which they drew their final breath: If there is a hierarchy of human expiration, they swung from its lowest rungs.”

On May 24th, Rosie DiManno’s lede set a tone she would build on:

A homely hooker with a chronic substance abuse problem, a teenage boy who liked to dress up as a woman because he could make more money that way turning tricks, and a beautiful “pre-operative” transsexual who was one of the most established queens on the street.

She added: “It is, they say, as if the violence perpetrated against them is somehow sanctioned, not as obscene as the murder of teenage school girls abducted off the streets,” adding, “But, surely, it is a grievous insult to suggest that the rest of us have somehow contributed to these triple murders by not doing enough to embrace, to reinforce, gay rights or prostitutes’ rights.”

The lede on DiManno’s next column was worse:

They are twittery and exotic creatures, an exaggeration of femininity, all gloss and polish and seductive giggles. Sashaying down the street, too narrow hips rolling in gross imitation of a sexy siren’s wiggle. Long coltish legs. Spiky slingbacks click-clicking.

DiManno’s misogyny and cissexism here was unambiguous, as she described another trans woman who was a friend of Ms. Wilkinson:

She gestures toward her chest — almost flat, despite the deliberate postures she assumes of thrusting her ribs forward in imitation of breasts — and says: “I’m getting my top done.” She is almost wistful as she talks about this, becoming the woman she believes she is. So many transsexuals, unlike transvestites, have similar dreams. Rare is the creature who has actually had the sex-change. It is almost like a mantra, the way some women dream of Mr. Right.

On May 30th, after DiManno’s second column, the murderer (still not captured) had been identified as Marcello Palma. Reporters described Palma as a “hard-working family man” and “a nice guy”. DiManno’s column the following day painted Palma as a normative, upstanding citizen. She described the bucolic pleasantness of the Palma bungalow in Downsview: “everything tidy and precise… the smell of freshly mown grass” on a “street of house-proud addresses, all of them boasting fancy masonry and curlicue wrought-iron railings.” Then DiManno added: “A world away from the sex and sleaze of the Tranny Stroll in downtown Toronto.”

DiManno wondered aloud whether the people who lived on Palma’s street, whom she recognized as first- and second-generation Italian-Canadians, could “have heard that such a place exists in the city, where men dressed like women sell sexual favors [sic] to other men, not dressed like women. Such a tawdry universe would be as foreign to them as the moon.”

Palma was captured in Halifax shortly after DiManno’s third column. On a fourth and final column about the case, DiManno’s lede began with the sensationalistic line, “The cop works the edges of the scrum, cocking an ear towards the hefty hooker in the teensy-weensy skirt, cantilevered breasts overflowing the cups of her black bustier like freshly rising dough.”

Five years later, when he was tried in court, the Canadian Press lede revived the narrative of trans people and sex workers, as objects, killed by a respectable family guy: “Marcello Palma frequently fantasized that he would kill street prostitutes — whom he both despised and employed for his gratification. The married father transformed his sick dream into a terrifying reality when he shot three hookers within an hour on Victoria Day night 1996.”

The victims weren’t described as women, much less as feminine. They weren’t even described as human subjects.

The take. Rosie DiManno’s departure of professionalism reached well beyond a cissexist obliviousness by the many reporters who tracked the murders. She was especially deliberate with of her florid wording — intended as mean-spirited, malicious, even bordering on libellous. DiManno, revealing her own internalized misogyny with respect to her leniency on violence against women, was especially forgiving for the man who, on the same night, murdered two women and a third person (who voiced themselves with a feminine articulation of gender at the time they were confronted by their killer). DiManno condemned Ms. Wilkinson, other trans women, and gender-non-conforming people through literary mockery for the very life experiences which marginalized them intersectionally: a cisnormative culture which gave the murderer the social benefit of doubt for nearly a week after his killing spree.

DiManno’s contributions, besides being professionally disingenuous, is an exemplar of the journalism which trans people — trans women particularly — may expect if forcibly disclosed by cis people. Irrespective of the topic, she can anticipate being introduced not as a woman, but as a “trans(gender)” or “transgender woman” — even when the story doesn’t remotely relate to her not being cis. It is a wilful teardown between the realm of the public and the private spheres.

If a trans woman is dead, then journalistic best practices by cis journalists (which have changed very little from the 1990s) may try to impose cissexist, even absurdist tropes to dispute, even erase her lived experiences. Tropes meant to delegitimize her — like “born a man”, “trapped in a man’s body”, “identify as a woman” and “lived as a woman” — are still leaned on regularly by cis journalists. These tropes dehumanize her, erase her privacy (in ways no cis person gets subjected), and what she has endured. Each speaks to how cis people objectify her body’s morphology, and the ways they put her memory to a trial of public scrutiny.

This harsh, differential treatment, which does not happen when she isn’t disclosed as trans, invalidates her narrative and labels her prescriptively in ways which undermine her personhood. For this reason, many trans people don’t talk to cis people about the knowledge they have of being trans.

Sources: [1] Abbate, Gay and Silcoff, Sean. 1996. Policing increased after three slain: woman, two transvestites shot. The Globe and Mail, 23 May: p. A10. [2] Barber, John. 1996. Toronto murders reveal inconsistencies of prostitution law. The Globe and Mail, 29 May: p. A2. [3] Boyle, Theresa. 1996. Families stricken by slayings. Toronto Star, 23 May: p. A6. [4] Brazao, Dale and Rankin, Jim. 1996. Serial killer sought three prostitutes shot to death within three hours. Toronto Star, 23 May: p. A1. [5] Canadian Press. 2001. Judge convicts man for ‘executions’ of three Toronto prostitutes. Canadian Press, 20 April. [6] DeMara, Bruce and Welsh, Moira. 1996. Two transvestites gunned down: police fear killer may be stalking other prostitutes. Toronto Star, 22 May: p. A6. [7] DiManno, Rosie. 1996. Killer’s madness can’t be blamed on our attitude to gays. Toronto Star, 24 May: p. A7. [8] DiManno, Rosie. 1996. Shaken by slayings, street’s glittery sirens challenge the night. Toronto Star, 27 May: A7. [9] DiManno, Rosie. 1996. Neighbours stunned suspect in killings lives down the street. Toronto Star, 31 May: p. A7. [10] DiManno, Rosie. 1996. Unwritten things about 3 murders annoy and perplex. Toronto Star, 5 June 1996: p. A7. [11] Rankin, Jim and Goldhar, Kathleen. 1996. Suspect’s family was in turmoil: neighbours. Toronto Star, 30 May: p. A7. [12] Todd, Paula. 1996. Murders in hot zone don’t rip our hearts. Toronto Star, 27 May: p. A15. [13] Toronto Star. 1996. Transvestite murders spark fear of stalker. Toronto Star, 22 May: p. A1. [14] Welsh, Moira and Brazao, Dale. 1996. Victims all took to the streets, met brutal fate on same night. Toronto Star, 24 May: p. A4.

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Junior Keegan (ID photo)

Junior Keegan (ID photo)

SHAWN “JUNIOR” KEEGAN: murdered, 1996

Who? Shawn Keegan (known as Junior), a 19-year-old white genderqueer person

When? 20 May 1996

Where? In front of 40 Homewood Avenue (Church Wellesley Village)

How? They were shot in the head, twice, at point-blank range (a Sturm Ruger .357 pistol loaded with hollow-pointed bullets).

Did they find their killer? Yes. His name was Marcello Palma, a cis man.

What did the press say about Junior? They were treated by reporters in much the same way Deanna Wilkinson was, but with a bit more compassionate leniency not extended to her.

Journalists created a narrative for Keegan who — still a teenager and living with HIV — was trying to escape homelessness. They had been evicted from squatting in an abandoned house two weeks earlier and, shortly after, helped participate in a large civil protest against youth homelessness at Nathan Phillips Square. They were also a drag performer at Bar 501. Several of Keegan’s friends and co-workers were interviewed, including their partner who worked on stage. Reporters made note that Keegan was presenting themselves in a feminine capacity when they were shot to death.

There was evidence that Keegan was shot twice, despite the bullets being hollow-pointed (and highly destructive to soft tissue). They had managed to get back up after the first gunshot before being shot again. This attested, according to reporters, Keegan’s exceptional will to live — which meant getting out of sex work and homelessness as soon as they could. This was also set in contrast to Ms. Wilkinson’s and Ms. Ludgate’s separate struggles with fighting drug addiction. Doug Saunders of The Globe and Mail reported:

“He was just a kid, and he really wanted to be a performer,” said Joanne Amos, manager of Pembroke Residences, a low-rent rooming house where Mr. [sic] Keegan had briefly stayed. “I know for sure that he had only been on the stroll (selling his body) for three days.

The take. The way Keegan was treated, relative to Ms. Ludgate and Ms. Wilkinson, was more forgiving. Several intersectional factors to this leniency could be involved (that Keegan wasn’t a woman was probably one, even as their articulated femininity was what made them a target, and their youthfulness may have been another). Also, Keegan’s acceptance by friends as gay was more palatable to a homonormative part of town. This, however, didn’t mean Keegan was treated with respect by cis journalists.

Sources: [1] Abbate, Gay and Silcoff, Sean. 1996. Policing increased after three slain: woman, two transvestites shot. The Globe and Mail, 23 May: p. A10. [2] Barber, John. 1996. Toronto murders reveal inconsistencies of prostitution law. The Globe and Mail, 29 May: p. A2. [3] Boyle, Theresa. 1996. Families stricken by slayings. Toronto Star, 23 May: p. A6. [4] Brazao, Dale and Rankin, Jim. 1996. Serial killer sought three prostitutes shot to death within three hours. Toronto Star, 23 May: p. A1. [5] Canadian Press. 2001. Judge convicts man for ‘executions’ of three Toronto prostitutes. Canadian Press, 20 April. [6] DeMara, Bruce and Welsh, Moira. 1996. Two transvestites gunned down: police fear killer may be stalking other prostitutes. Toronto Star, 22 May: p. A6. [7] DiManno, Rosie. 1996. Killer’s madness can’t be blamed on our attitude to gays. Toronto Star, 24 May: p. A7. [8] DiManno, Rosie. 1996. Shaken by slayings, street’s glittery sirens challenge the night. Toronto Star, 27 May: A7. [9] DiManno, Rosie. 1996. Neighbours stunned suspect in killings lives down the street. Toronto Star, 31 May: p. A7. [10] Rankin, Jim and Goldhar, Kathleen. 1996. Suspect’s family was in turmoil: neighbours. Toronto Star, 30 May: p. A7. [11] Saunders, Doug. Transvestites endure poverty, scorn: slayings rock outcast community. The Globe and Mail, 24 May: p. A1. [12] Todd, Paula. 1996. Murders in hot zone don’t rip our hearts. Toronto Star, 27 May: p. A15. [13] Toronto Star. 1996. Transvestite murders spark fear of stalker. Toronto Star, 22 May: p. A1. [14] Welsh, Moira and Brazao, Dale. 1996. Victims all took to the streets, met brutal fate on same night. Toronto Star, 24 May: p. A4.

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The search for Grayce Baxter's remains in the Pickering Dump, January 1993

The search for Grayce Baxter’s remains in the Pickering Dump, January 1993

GRAYCE BAXTER: murdered, 1992

Who? Grayce Elizabeth Baxter, a 27-year-old white trans woman

When? 8 December 1992

Where? At a client’s apartment, on Wynford Heights Crescent (North York)

How? She was strangled while at work. Her body was dismembered and dumped. Her remains, never found, are still buried in a garbage landfill in Pickering.

Did they find her killer? Yes. His name was Patrick Daniel Johnson, a corrections officer at the Don Jail. He was ordered to prison for ten years on a life sentence. In 2016, he was ordered back to prison after four previous revocations for parole (and day parole).

What did the press say about Grayce? Several journalists reported on Ms. Baxter’s murder. As more reports were filed, journalists treated her womanhood with increasingly less validity. Her body’s morphological history and her quality of life was given more attention than her murderer’s violent behaviour and psychological profile.

Ms. Baxter, who lived near Yonge and Queens Quay, was reported missing December 22nd by the Toronto Star. Her car was found in a parking lot at Gerrard Square two weeks after she vanished. It was probably not yet known to journalists that Ms. Baxter was a woman who was trans, not cis.

The first news briefs, on the 22nd and 23rd, reported Ms. Baxter as a (cis) woman who worked as a “prostitute” and a “call girl”. Despite this, both articles sought to humanize her: “‘Her family and friends have not heard from her and this is unusual’,” adding how she “left her pet cat unattended.” They also reported how she was an “avid antique collector with a taste” for “expensive furniture”.

Everything changed with the third story, dated December 24th. Tony Wong’s lede and story ceased referring to her as a woman: “Missing Toronto prostitute Grayce Baxter is a transsexual who received a sex-change operation about seven years ago, police say.” This story marked when Ms. Baxter stopped being treated journalistically as someone and started being treated as something.

An expose by Michele Mandel attempted to put together a biography, but spent more effort investigating the history of her body and her experiences as a girl and, later, woman who was trans. Despite reporting that her parents had always supported her, Mandel attempted to reconcile her nurturing family with the implication that her being trans was socially deviant.

Jim Rankin wrote on Ms. Baxter’s alleged use of crack cocaine. This was contradicted by 52 Division police, which found no evidence to support the reporter’s hearsay. 52 Division’s statement was buried under Rankin’s lede. Rankin reported on Ms. Baxter’s body measurements — something reserved for suspects: “6-foot-tall, 160-pound … straight blonde hair and a sturdy build.”

The fourth article on Ms. Baxter by journalist Nick Pron, posted nine days after the first story, repeated the hearsay drug use allegations, alleging how Ms. Baxter may have run afoul of a dealer (this, despite 52 Division’s statement). Pron added how she worked as a professional dominatrix for wealthy businessmen. This article also printed her dead name — that is, the name assigned to her at birth which had long been vacated legally.

Ten days after Pron’s file, Lisa Wright reported that an arrest was made, yet waited until the final paragraph to disclose the suspect’s name. In between this and the lede, she added: “Grayce Baxter was born a male, Grant, and had a sex change operation seven years ago before starting a career as a call girl,” dead-naming her in the process.

Ms. Baxter was murdered by a member of law enforcement. His motive was not drug-related. It related to his own impotence: his purchased time with Ms. Baxter expired before he could climax. So he strangled her to death, cut her into pieces, and dumped the pieces down the apartment tower’s trash chute.

When he was sentenced, DeMara and Darroch’s lede objectified Ms. Baxter while humanizing her murderer: “A guilty plea has sent a young man to jail for 10 years and closed the file on Grayce Baxter, a transsexual prostitute whose dismembered body remains forever entombed in a Pickering landfill site.” (Compare with a lede which wasn’t used: “A guilty plea has sent a murderer to prison for 10 years, closing the file on Grayce Baxter, a young woman whose strangled and dismembered remains at a landfill have never been found.”) Also, this lede is in stark contrast to the first report filed on Ms. Baxter disappearance: “Metro police fear for missing woman.”

The take. Journalists believed Grayce Baxter was murdered because her body was transsexual and because she earned her living legally (but immorally). Her work afforded material benefits not expected of women, much less women who are trans: the quality of life conserved to white-collar professionals. (This is both misogyny and trans misogyny). More attention was directed to her material circumstances than to who she was as a young woman. In the end, her humanity was dispatched by journalists, much as her body was dispatched by her murderer.

Sources: [1] DeMara, Bruce and Darroch, Wendy. 1994. Guard gets life term for killing prostitute: transsexual’s dismembered body buried in Pickering dump. Toronto Star, 20 April: p. A8. [2] Mandel, Michele. 1992. Where is Grayce? Toronto Star, 27 December. [3] Pron, Nick. 1992. Police seek missing call girl’s customers. Toronto Star, 31 December: p. A6. [4] Rankin, Jim. 1992. Missing call girl had drug problem, pal says. Toronto Star, 29 December: p. A5. [5] Toronto Star. 1992. Metro police fear for missing woman. Toronto Star, 22 December: p. A7. [6] Wong, Tony. 1992. Police seek public’s aid to locate transsexual. Toronto Star, 24 December: p. A4. [7] Wright, Lisa. 1992. Police try to retrace call girl’s last two days. Toronto Star, 23 December: p. A7. [8] Wright, Lisa. 1993. Client of transsexual charged with murder. Toronto Star, 9 January: p. A20. [9] Mandel, Michele. 2016. Killer sent back to prison after fourth parole chance. Toronto Sun, 16 February 2016.

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Lisa Bryant (ID photo)

Lisa Bryant (ID photo)

LISA BRYANT: murdered, 1991

Who? Lisa Bryant, a 33-year-old white trans woman

When? 13 January 1991

Where? At her home, on Uxbridge Avenue near Davenport Road (Junction Triangle)

How? Her body was found in the doorway of a house set afire by an arsonist. She died of smoke inhalation.

Did they find her killer? Unknown.

What did the press say about Lisa? The article described Lisa as “a transvestite”. It used her assigned name at birth, then adding how she “went by the name of Lisa.” The article used masculine pronouns exclusively when referring to her.

The take. When a woman is placed as a trans woman — and when it is reported that she has not completed genital surgery — the standard practice for reporting on trans women was to prescribe her as a “transvestite”. This journalistic practice began to be more widely discouraged in the 2000s, but still occurs routinely in the reporting of murdered trans women in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Source: Toronto Star. 1991. Arson confirmed in fatal fire. Toronto Star, 13 January: p. A7.

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“CHARLES” WELBANKS: murdered, 1988

Who? “Charles” Welbanks, a 38-year-old white gender-nonconforming person

When? 6 February 1988

Where? At their home, on Queen Street West

How? Domestic violence. Stabbed four times by their boyfriend.

Did they find their killer? Yes. His name was John Ralph Taylor, who plead guilty to manslaughter. Taylor had an extensive criminal record prior to murdering Welbanks.

What did the press say about Welbanks? The article described Welbanks as “a transvestite”. It referred to Welbanks exclusively with masculine pronouns and with their legal name. They had known their killer for eight years.

The take. It was common practice to describe a relationship between a cis man and a trans woman as “homosexual lovers”. Journalist Darroch overlooked the pattern of domestic violence by men against women and femininity.

Source: Darroch, Wendy. 1989. Man, 48, who killed roommate in quarrel over bed gets 6 years. Toronto Star, 14 February: p. A18.

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Lisa Black

Lisa Black (ID photo)

LISA BLACK: murdered, 1987

Who? Lisa Black, a 23-year-old trans woman of colour

When? 2 March 1987

Where? At her home, on Northcote Avenue (West Queen West)

How? Domestic violence. She suffered massive blunt force head trauma from multiple hammer blows.

Did they find her killer? Yes. Her name was Synthia Anne Kavanagh, a trans woman.

What did the press say about Lisa? The Toronto Star used the name assigned to her at birth, adding “also known as Lisa”. They described Lisa as being “in the midst of being surgically changed from a man to a woman” and “was known to work as a prostitute” in Parkdale. One article (Toronto Star, July 31st) referred to her with feminine pronouns. The Globe and Mail article described her as a “transsexual prostitute”.

Several hours before her murder, she was also robbed by a cis man in his car, possibly while she at work. Her legal identification was stolen in that robbery.

The take. A journalistic device used for reporting on trans people — trans men, trans women, and genderqueer people — is the insistence on “revealing” one’s dead name (that is, the name they no longer use in common practice, legally, or both). Whenever a trans subject is alive and interviewed, it is not uncommon for a cis journalist to insist on discovering a trans person’s dead name.

It’s also common to treat the history of a trans person’s body as a public item. This is because trans bodies are regarded by many cis people as public property — a kind of social eminent domain. This is a function of cisnormativity.

Penetrating inquiry like this dehumanizes the subject, and it helps to rationalize journalistic claims that a trans person’s dead name is “still relevant because it’s a matter of public record.” This is especially troublesome when the public record has long since invalidated and purged a name assigned at birth. This legal fact is often not respected. As well, making light of a trans person’s name assigned at birth is a weapon which many cis people have shown no compunction in exposing. Doing so serves one purpose: for cis people to put trans people in their place.

Sources: [1] Moore, Dene. 1999. Murderer will be allowed sex change, prison transfer. The Globe and Mail, 19 November: p. A2. [2] Toronto Star. 1987. Murder charge laid in killing of transsexual. Toronto Star, 31 July: p. A7.

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DIANNE EDWARDS: murdered, 1979

Who? Dianne Belle Edwards, a 36-year-old white trans woman

When? 20 October 1979

Where? At her home, on 45 Badgerow Drive (Leslieville, near Dundas Street E. and Pape Street)

How? Domestic violence. She was stabbed with a butcher knife her killer found in the kitchen. She was asleep on the living room chesterfield when she was stabbed the first time. The killer then attacked her housemates with a baseball bat when they rushed to her aid. Then he drank a beer. Then he bludgeoned Dianne repeatedly with the bat. Then he stabbed her body a second time. When he heard Dianne moan, he found a steak knife and stabbed her a third time in the throat, followed by a threat to kill the other women if they reported him to the police.

Did they find her killer? Yes. His name was Gregory Thomas Cooper. Cooper was later found “not guilty of murder by reason of insanity” by a jury of ten cis men and two cis women.

What did the press say about Dianne? The Metropolitan Toronto Police morality bureau investigated before transferring to homicide detectives. The murderer, who broke into the house at 4:30 AM, also attacked and grievously wounded two cis women and a 6-year-old child — all of whom were Dianne’s housemates. All three survived with non-life-threatening injuries. The Toronto Star reported in an interview with her housemate, Micheline Ferland, that Dianne’s killer, visibly intoxicated, broke into the house and “‘was after Diane in particular’… [Cooper] said he was going to kill the ‘gearbox’.” It is unclear whether the use of “gearbox” was an editorial censorship for the slur “tranny”. Cooper was a former resident of the home and knew his victims.

The Globe and Mail article labelled Ms. Edwards “a transvestite” and used both masculine pronouns and honorifics. It identified her by her dead name. The article added how she was “known to neighbours as Diane.”

The article ended on this remark: “reports that Mr. [sic] Edwards was a transsexual were incorrect… the man [sic] was a transvestite — he [sic] had not had a sex-change operation.” The Toronto Star piece, however, completely contradicted this claim in an interview with Dianne’s housemate, who was quoted as saying the date for Dianne’s genital surgery was exactly one week away, scheduled for October 28th.

The take. It was once routine for journalists to describe a trans woman as a deviant cis man with a duplicitous “alias”, then describing her with masculine pronouns. Dianne was killed by domestic violence. This still occurs in stories like the Cleveland trans woman, Cemia Dove, who was murdered in 2013.

Sources: [1] Bourrie, Mark. 1979. Man is charged with murder in stabbing of transvestite, 36. The Globe and Mail, 22 October: p. P4. [2] Kessel, John and Jim Wilkes. 1979. Police hunt killer after bloody night of terror. Toronto Star, 21 October 1979: p. A1, A3. [3] Oakes, Gary. 1980. Voice told him to kill, jury told. Toronto Star, 27 May 1980: p: D6.

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Coroner moving Shirley Hauser’s body

Coroner moving Shirley Hauser’s body

SHIRLEY HAUSER: murdered, 1978

Who? Shirley Christine Hauser, a 20-year-old white trans woman

When? 19 August 1978

Where? On the lawn of Western Technical High School, Evelyn Crescent

How? While on a date. When her date learnt that Shirley was trans, he attacked her with a knife. Her right jugular vein was sliced open, and she suffered 17 stab wounds across her neck and chest. Her body was found the next morning by a man who was walking his dog.

Did they find her killer? Yes. His name was Richard William Andes. He was found guilty and sentenced. His prison term was commuted a year later in consideration of “homosexual [sic] panic.”

What did the press say about Shirley? All three articles by The Globe and Mail set a very unforgiving precedent on reporting the murders of trans women in Toronto. The city coroner who completed the autopsy on Shirley’s body, stressed that the “female hormone pills in his [sic] purse … were way above the therapeutic dosage.”

The 1978 article, reporting the murder, devoted a paragraph to describing her body’s morphology:

The victim had well-developed breasts and lacked facial hair as a result of taking hormones. Police and hospital staff thought for several hours that the body was that of a woman [sic].

The mother of the murderer, when his guilty verdict was read, “burst into tears and cried out: Oh, no. Don’t punish him for the homosexual [sic]. Oh please, he is the victim.” (1979)

When the murderer’s sentence was commuted, The Globe and Mail used scare quotations around Shirley’s correctly-gendered pronoun:

The Ontario Court of Appeal has reduced an eight-year-sentence to six years for a man who flew into a rage and stabbed his date to death after discovering that “she” was a transsexual. (1980)

The take. Shirley Hauser’s womanhood was erased promptly by the press. It succeeded to place her as a cis gay man trying to “deceive” a cis heterosexual man, despite all situational and physical evidence showing the contrary.

This isn’t “homosexual panic”, nor are “panic” defences even valid. This is violence against women and violence against trans people (much the way Brandon Teena, a trans man, was killed in 1993). The more possessive a cis man is with a woman, the more violent he may become when he isn’t “promised” what he expects. This possession is about control over a woman’s agency. Innumerable trans women have been killed by cis men who have attacked them when she is often at her most vulnerable and defenceless. This kind of vulnerability — and the impulsive violence — is an invidious misogyny, coupled with a tacitly permissive transphobia.

It also speaks to the objectification of a woman’s body: Ms. Hauser’s murderer wanted to posses a part of her body she did not have to give.

Sources: [1] Globe and Mail. 1978. Transsexual, 20, killed with knife. The Globe and Mail, 21 August: p. P5. [2] Globe and Mail. 1979. Man is jailed for knife killing of transsexual. The Globe and Mail, 10 April: p. P3. [3] Globe and Mail. 1980. In brief: term cut in transsexual slaying. The Globe and Mail, 18 April: p. P4.

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UNNAMED TRANS WOMAN: suicide, ca. 1978

Who? An unidentified, twenty-something trans woman

When? around 1978

Where? Toronto (not specified)

How? A self-inflicted gunshot wound to her head.

Who was responsible for coercing her suicide? The Clarke Gender Identity Clinic, now known as CAMH. The Clarke GIC selectively denied her access to endocrine management and other trans health services based on her body’s superficial appearance (they deemed her “too hairy”).

What did the press say about this woman? The Globe and Mail’s Joan Hollobon used this woman’s death as a vehicle: one, a public interest piece on trans health services conserved by The Clarke GIC; and two, a story of exacerbating the deviance of people who are trans. The story identified this woman with the masculine pseudonym “Ronny” (neither the masculine name assigned to her at birth, nor the name she embraced for herself, was used for the story). They referred to her exclusively with masculine pronouns.

The take. When journalists like Hollobon have interviewed The Clarke GIC (and CAMH) on matters pertaining to trans people, they have done so uncritically. While it isn’t unusual for journalists to accept an “expert’s opinion” without critical investigation, what makes it so troublesome here is how the population directly impacted by this institution was not interviewed as experts to their own experiences. To 2013, every director at The Clarke GIC/CAMH, on matters of trans medicine, has been a cis person — most of them white cis men.

In this article, The Clarke maintained steadfastly how being trans is a mental illness, much the way homosexuality was prior to 1973, and how access to care must be conserved and commoditized through a mechanism of restriction (known colloquially to trans people as “jumping hoops”).

Compare this restrictiveness to women-oriented health clinics which provide reproductive health services: by limiting access to those services, unnecessary hardships and drastic measures can (and often do) occur. The relationship between reproductive medicine and trans medicine share the same root: endocrinology (or, the means to externally manage the endocrine function of one’s body, which came about in the early 20th century). The political and institutional barriers which restrict and regulate women’s bodies (cis and trans) behave identically to the barriers which restrict and regulate trans bodies (whether they’re women, men, or gender-non-conforming).

Hollobon facilitated a narrative which was compassionate to The Clarke GIC’s mission and unforgiving to the trans woman who was made a public example of pathos (and a warning to trans people struggling to come out): that a trans person must be gifted to “look the part” (lookism, objectification) and must adhere to restrictive, deeply cissexist provisions as a precondition to being granted access to conserved health services.

Endocrine care isn’t scarce: it’s made that way through conscious policy decisions from institutions like The Clarke/CAMH so that they can continue to stay in demand (and funded publicly), in spite of their Draconian standards of care toward several people who were trans.

This is cisnormative gatekeeping. Consequently, hundreds if not thousands of trans people who are denied access have attempted to end their lives. Many have succeeded. Their blood can be traced to this systemic routine of restriction — a cissexist, misogynistic restriction at that.

Source: Hollobon, Joan. 1978. Changing sex — not for the confused: Clarke Institute screens out most applicants. The Globe and Mail, 25 September: p. P1.

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