This morning's story in the PD chronicles the criminal history of Acoff — whose female name we're trying to track down — and the details of her grisly murder.
Commenters have been lambasting reporter John Caniglia for what they've identified as aggressive insensitivity for refusing to use feminine pronouns when referring to Acoff. Naturally, the debate has soured into name-calling and one-upmanship, but the two sides tend to look like this:
It is disgusting that you continue to [misgender] this women. She identified as female and thought of herself as female just as I do. Even after her life ended through violence you still couldn't summon the decency to respect her. Transwomen are especially vulnerable to violence. People can't seem to understand the difference between biological sex and gender. You are feeding this climate of hate.
And the other side:
The negative criticism of the PD writers of this article referring to Acoff as a man is without merit.
After all, Acoff admitted to RTA police that he was a man. Thus, it is appropriate for the PD writers of this article to refer to Acoff as being male.
Things have been getting pretty heated over there, and though the commenters calling for the immediate dismissal of reporter John Caniglia and fiery death of the Plain Dealer are blowing things out of proportion, strictly from a journalistic style perspective, they're in the right. And it turns out to be more than just a matter of decency.
As of May, 2010, The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post, follow an updated media reference guide approved by GLAAD when reporting on LGBT lives, issues and stories.
Pertinent to the Carl Acoff story is the "transgender" entry:
Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.
In other words, if Acoff identified as a woman and presented herself as such, she should be an undisputed 'she.'
The question of the murder — whether or not it was a hate crime, specifically — is still just that: a question. But as new details alter the context or circumstances of her death, they should not alter the way journalists refer to the victim.