Trans woman violently killed and deliberately misgendered by police in death. Her name was Jenna Franks

Jenna Franks

A trans woman who was killed and left in the woods has been remembered as a “beautiful soul” by loved ones – but persistently misgendered by police and the media.

Jenna Franks, 34, was found on 24 February in a wooded area near a bike trail in Jacksonville, North Carolina as city street crews were clearing a ditch. Police are investigating the case as a homicide.

Her death marks at least the 10th known violent death of a transgender or non-binary person in the US so far this year, a continuation of the devastating epidemic of violence against the trans community.

Franks was an active member of the Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Centre family, whose director Dennis Biancuzzo described her as “a beautiful soul” and “a breath of fresh air” loved by many people.

“But the first thing reported about her by local media was the one thing I never wanted to hear: the deadname she was assigned at birth,” he said.

He joined GLAAD and several of Franks’ friends in calling out the Jacksonville Police Department and local media for repeatedly misgendering Franks in death.

“It’s unfortunate that North Carolina’s local media has failed transgender North Carolinians at a time when accuracy and representation are needed the most,” GLAAD’s regional media lead, Serena Sonoma, said in a statement.

According to GLAAD, multiple local LGBT+ groups contacted the police, The Jacksonville Daily News and CBS-affiliate WNCT-TV, asking them to update their records with Franks’ correct name. They have not done so.

By “choosing not to respect trans identities”, Sonoma said local media “opens the community up to discrimination, and potentially more violence”.

ABC-afflilate WCTI12 was among the first to misgender Franks in a report that included her deadname, even as it acknowledged a trans activist who insisted she was known as Jenna Franks.

A week later they recognised that she was indeed a trans woman but continued to use her deadname in reports, as did several other news outlets.

Such disrespect is sadly all too common for trans victims. By the Human Rights Campaign‘s estimates, approximately three-quarters of all known victims are misgendered by media and/or by law enforcement.

The advocacy group described Franks’ treatment in death as “an injustice compounding this tragedy”.

“Anti-transgender stigma is exacerbated by callous or disrespectful treatment by some in the media, law enforcement and elected offices,” they said in a statement.

“The fatal violence against transgender and non-binary people we’ve recorded so far this year has been devastating. Jenna had family, friends and a community who cared about her. Her life was taken far too soon.”

Biancuzzo and Jenna’s sister, Amber Franks, are currently raising funds for the Jenna Franks Interim Housing Project in her memory, which will offer housing and job training for LGBT+ people experiencing homelessness.

Speaking about the housing project, Amber said: “[Jenna] would be so happy to know that she did something to help those who needed help like she did.”