Family and friends of victims of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland are speaking out as their loved ones continue to be victim-blamed for living in the below-code warehouse and further victimized by being misgendered by the press after their deaths.
The deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire claimed the lives of at least 36 people earlier this month in what’s believed to be one of the worst fires in Oakland’s history. Many of the victims have not yet been identified and at least one of the victims was only 17-years-old, according to Bustle.
Yet even as news reports emerged that bodies of the victims were found holding and protecting each other and that victims texted family members with text such as, “I love you. I’m going to die, Mom,” the victims were already being blamed by some as responsible for their own deaths. Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf was shouted down by a crowd of mourners who chanted “Stop victim blaming” at a memorial for the victims, Daily Mail reported, after she spoke out about safety code violations immediately following the tragedy.
Erin McElroy, co-founder of the local organization Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, told Pitchfork that Oakland serves more than 2,000 eviction notices a year, causing area residents to have no choice but to live in “precarious scenarios.”
“And a crackdown isn’t going to keep people out of unsafe places, it’s going to accelerate it,” he said.
“The priority of the city should be securing affordable housing for residents and preventing evictions.”
Some members of the artist community of the Ghost Ship warehouse and similar Oakland, California, area warehouses are also upset that some community members seem to be using the tragedy as an excuse to shut down the warehouses that are such a vital part of their lives instead of bringing them up to code to make them safe, East Bay Times reports.
Area artist B.G. Anaraki said Wednesday that the focus on the illegal warehouses in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire has been to erase the artists’ spaces and replace them with “white-washed” versions instead of helping to make them safe.
“I lost my roommate, my best friend, my girlfriend,” said Anaraki.
“These illegal spaces are everything in my life. My friends live for the art we created.”
In yet another heartbreaking aspect to the tragedy, some of the Ghost Ship warehouse victims were transgender and the press has grappled — often poorly — with how to report the names and tell the stories of the victims.
Transgender victims of the Oakland fire such as Em Bohlka, Feral Pines, or Cash Askew all identified as trans women, and all used the pronouns she/her. Yet some press outlets have been further compounding their tragedies by referring to them with male pronouns, LGBTQ Nation reports.
Chase Strangio, a New York City attorney who spoke out about the issue on Medium, said that the Ghost Ship victims should not, under any circumstance, be referred to by any other pronoun or any other name than those that they identified with.
“When I hear my old name, I am so uncomfortable to the point of being nauseous,” Strangio wrote.
“My name is central to who I am — as it is for most people, trans and not. If I die and I am called that old name, it will be an affront to all that I am, all that I believe in, everything I want to leave behind in the world.”
Similarly, Strangio says that “calling someone a man who is plainly not a man or calling someone a woman who is plainly not a woman is just cruel.”
There are an estimated 1.4 million transgender people in the United States. GLAAD, which provides a media reference guide for covering the trans community, has instructed the press that trans people should never be referred to by their birth names without their explicit permission.
“When a transgender person’s birth name is used in a story, the implication is almost always that this is the person’s ‘real name,'” the advocacy group says. “But in fact, a transgender person’s chosen name is their real name, whether or not they are able to obtain a court-ordered name change.”
GLAAD points out that many people use names they have chosen for themselves and the media does not mention their birth name when writing about them, such as Lady Gaga, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg or Eminem. Transgender people, they remind us, should be accorded the same respect.
Funds have been set up to help victims of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire. Paper has a list of organizations that are helping family members of the victims, those who were left homeless by the fire and other survivors of the tragedy.
[Featured Image by Eric Risberg/AP Images]