News Analysis: Dayton shooter’s sibling continues to be misgendered by media

In the days following the Dayton, Ohio mass shooting on August 4, many news outlets said that among the victims of shooter Connor Betts, 24, was his sibling, identified in reports as Betts’ sister, Megan Betts, 22, allegedly the first victim in the shooting.

A statement to media from a spokesperson for the family read in part, “They ask that everyone respect the family’s privacy in order to mourn the loss of their son and daughter and to process the horror of [these] events.”

But Betts’ sibling was a trans man named Jordan Cofer, who was out to friends and on his college campus at nearby Wright State University. Cofer’s social media accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr all show Cofer living his life as a young man.

This makes headlines like the USA Today story “Dayton shooting: Gunman killed his sister but was the ‘sororicide’ intentional?” harder for those who knew and loved Cofer for who he was.

Several of Cofer’s friends reached out to media in the days after his death to explain Cofer’s identity. On Aug. 7, Cofer’s friend Elizabeth Blackburn wrote a piece about him for Medium, noting, “Jordan’s brother, Connor Betts, robbed him of the opportunity to be remembered as he lived. As he wrote on his Tumblr bio, he was a trans man with ‘a loving heart and way too much work to do.’”

Blackburn said, “Today Jordan is incorrectly memorialized in countless news stories featuring high school prom photos taken from his mother’s Facebook page. His name was Jordan, and he was studying earth and environmental sciences and sang in the school chorus.”

On August 8, HRC wrote about Cofer, quoting an unnamed friend of Cofer’s who said, “He identified with he/him pronouns to people he trusted and knew would support him. Jordan was probably one of the sweetest people you would ever meet, a true saint. He tried to give the best to everyone.”

Yahoo News was the first mainstream outlet to publish an account of Cofer’s identity Aug. 8, but the story was run in the lifestyle section, rather than in news.

Gillian Branstetter, Media Relations Manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality explained to PGN that misrepresentation of trans persons is all too common in the media.

She said, “Using the right name and gender of a transgender person is crucial in life or in death. Doing otherwise not only negates a personal and crucial aspect of their identity but can effectively erase their existence as a transgender person.”

Still on August 13, ABC led its World News Tonight national news broadcast with a story about Connor Betts and his sibling. Both the reporter and anchor David Muir referred repeatedly to Betts’ “sister, Megan” with numerous photos that did not depict Cofer’s gender identity.

Branstetter said it’s incumbent upon journalists to thoroughly check identities. “Transgender people are not always out to everyone involved in their life or connected to them personally,” she explained, “making questions like these very common ones to ask after the death of a transgender person — no matter how that person died. Transgender murder victims are often first identified on social media which, after all, is content created by that person, often with their photo and identity plain to see.”

Because so many trans people are rejected by their families and 1 in 10 has experienced violence from a family member because of their gender identity, Branstetter said reporters and news media should be aware and “reports from friends and community members should be given significant weight by journalists and advocates, particularly when such reports conflict with names being used on official documentation or in police reports.”

HRC noted that Cofer’s murder is “the 14th known case in which violence took the life of a transgender person in 2019.”

HRC stated that Cofer’s death “is a tragic reminder that ending the epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings in the U.S. is integral to the fight for LGBTQ equality. When our communities are targeted — from schools and nightclubs to movie theaters and shopping malls — LGBTQ people, millions of whom live in communities across this nation, are also at risk.”

Honoring transgender victims in death is integral to affirming trans lives, Branstetter asserted.

“As transgender people, our identities are put into question throughout our lives, making it all the more important we respect the dignity and self-determination of those lost to violence,” she said.

Cofer’s friend Blackburn said, “The dead deserve to be recognized for who they were in life. Far too often when a young LGBTQ person dies, they are not afforded the dignity of an accurate public record.

“The duty to tell their truth falls to their lovers, friends and confidantes. Thankfully, Jordan was much loved.” 

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.