Oakland Officials Under Fire for Using Blaze Victims’ Real Names, ‘Misgendering’ Them

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 12:53 pm, December 9, 2016
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The recent fire in Oakland consumed the lives of 36 people last week. It occurred during a late-night rave at the warehouse, which was also home to an “artist collective” commune nicknamed the Oakland Ghost Ship. The sprawling structure was a disaster waiting to happen, littered with flammable junk. Its manager, Derick Almena, had by many accounts not taken the necessary precautions to prevent the blaze.

In the wake of the tragedy, the official City of Oakland Twitter account has been releasing the identities of the victims. Normally, those on social media would take to simply commemorating the lives of those lost, but city officials are now receiving a barrage of anger for using the victims’ legal names rather than their preferred monikers, some of whom were transgender or identify as “genderqueer.”

GLAAD released a statement regarding the issue, urging officials to refer to the victims by their preferred pronouns and chosen names during the time of their death. “If how the person identified is not known, use the pronoun consistent with how the person lived publicly,” it begins. “All transgender people should be treated as though they have changed their name legally to their chosen name.”

However, it adds that “many transgender people are only able to live as their authentic gender some of the time. In these cases, you should still listen to the friends who did know about the victim’s trans identity and respect the way a victim identified at the time of the incident.”

Eliza Wicks-Frank, a partner of one of the victims, is upset at city officials for not using the preferred name of a transgender woman named Feral Pines. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Wicks-Frank, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, described their act of “deadnaming” as “alien” and “infuriating.”

In the parlance of the scene, “deadnaming” is the practice of referring to someone by their legal name rather than what they choose to go by.

“The impact that this lack of dignity and awareness has on the community of trans people who are alive right now is it tells them that their fight is irrelevant, that they’re going to be disrespected regardless of how they fight to live their lives,” Wicks-Frank said.

Another friend of the victims, Scout Wolfcave, told The Guardian that she was upset with the authorities and the media for using incorrect pronouns in their reports.

Many of the victims, who had not updated their legal documentation to reflect their chosen names and pronouns, were referenced by the authorities in the only way that made it possible to identify them.