Cleveland ‘Plain Dealer’ Dehumanizes Horrific Murder of Trans Woman

The Cleveland Plain Dealer's coverage of the murder of Cemia Acoff, a transgender woman whose body was found tied to a block of concrete at the bottom of a pond after being stabbed repeatedly, is being denounced by LGBT rights organizations for its dehumanizing characterizations of the victim and transgender people.

TransmurderAn earlier piece on the murder had referred to Cemia as "it".

GLAAD writes:

GLAAD, Equality Ohio, TransOhio and Cleveland's LGBT Community Center are working to address anti-transgender local coverage of the story of a Cleveland transgender woman, Cemia Acoff, who was found dead earlier this month.

Throughout the day we have been in touch with all three local organizations and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the source of two highly problematic stories, currently titled "Brutal slaying marks the end of Cleveland man's fight for acceptance" and "Oddly dressed body found in Olmsted Township pond identified" (The latter had been previously said "Oddly dressed man.")

As of 3:05 PM, the Plain Dealer has updated its two stories to remove pronouns (except in the case of that one headline) and a few of the more sensationalized aspects of the stories. However, many problems remain.

Describing Acoff as "oddly dressed" is incredibly insulting.
Her murder did not "end her fight for acceptance," it ended her life. Period.
There is no need to describe what she was wearing at the time of her murder; she had already been identified at the start of both stories, describing her wardrobe only trivializes her murder.
Acoff's criminal record is almost certainly irrelevant to the story, especially when provided without any context concerning the trans community and law enforcement.
And removing pronouns doesn't fix much. Yes, the stories are no longer factually incorrect, but this tact still shows an unwillingness to respect the victim's gender identity and accept her as female.

Laurel Ramseyer at Pam's House Blend adds:

The journalist knew that Acoff was a trans woman because he reported that fact, yet he chose to not only mis-gender her, but he refers to her body as an “it”.  Corpses are generally referred to in the press as male or female, depending on the apparent anatomy or the determination made in the source police report.

Even mis-gendering the body would have been better than applying the dehumanizing “it”.

Violence against transgender people is at epidemic levels in the United States, with transgender African-Americans one of the hardest-hit subpopulations.  Pieces of dehumanizing garbage like these articles in the Plain Dealer (here and here) or this article at Fox 8 Cleveland only feed the flames of hatred and abuse.

Our thoughts go out to Cemia's family and friends.


  1. Caliban says

    It does sound as though the Plain Dealer’s coverage of the murder was tactless, particularly in referring to the victim as “it.” However, the article says that Ms Acoff was wearing 3 bras when her body was discovered, which IS at least slightly “odd.” If she normally wore 3 bras for whatever reason (padding?) then it’s probably not an important detail. If she did not it may be something her killer did and may turn out to be important.

  2. David Hearne says

    There is no need to go out of your way to be offensive but as for the headline “oddly dressed” consider from the article: “a red Betty Boop tank top, three black bras and a light black hooded jacket. Acoff was naked from the waist down, ” I’d say that qualifies as “oddly dressed”.

  3. David Hearne says

    A person is dead, and somebody has his panties in a knot because he doesn’t like the fact that the newspaper used male pronouns to refer to a male person?

    That’s some sense of priorities there. When Tyra Hunter was allowed to die in a DC Ambulance, pronouns were not the problem. An EMT that wouldn’t work on Tyra when he discovered that Tyra was male was the problem.

  4. TheDrDonna says

    It’s a fairly safe assumption, given the circumstances, that her gender identity was a strong factor in being targeted. To add to that by disrespecting her in death is unconscionable.

    And as far as the clothing goes, it doesn’t sound any different from some other woman, cis or otherwise, who is perhaps self conscious about being flat chested. If you think she was out walking around in public with no pants on, then common sense may not be your strong suit.

  5. says

    Donna, but on the other hand, that doesn’t mean that we have to like every wacky tranny that we meet! Heck, there’s tons of trannies that I can’t stand. Some of them are pretty weird and not sane. LOL!

    Anyways, I guess what I am saying is that there are some good ones and some bad ones. Probably more bad than good.

  6. says

    remember, when you Troll under my name and post links to my blog, anyone that clicks on it will see that I’m one of those gay men who outspokenly stands up in solidarity and support with my trans brothers and sisters.

    my truth slaughters your lies. but keep trying. won’t make my life worse, won’t make your life better.

  7. MateoM says

    Way to sink to a new low, David Hearne (aka Rick/Jason/Ratbastard).

    Seriously, you’re despicable. The absolute worst.

  8. Will Fostelo says

    This is yet another ridiculous complaint by GLAAD. So sad to see a once-useful gay organization “trans”formed.

    The article correctly describes the body as it was found. The bizarre state of dress of the body – no pants and 3 bras – is relevant to the circumstances and nature of the murder, i.e., the removal of the pants suggests a sexual motive. The description of the body also signals any members of the public, who might have seen the victim the night of the murder, to come forward.

    What is the reporter supposed to do, withhold facts? I guess it is better to hinder a murder investigation than to offend the sensibilities of trans activists, who are offended by everything and everyone, even as they routinely attack gay and lesbian people.

  9. David Hearne says

    Donna, the article doesn’t say that she was walking around with no pants on, it says that the body was oddly dressed. Three bras and a Betty Boop shirt is an odd way for a corpse to be dressed. Stop being so ridiculously sensitive and poised for offense. Trust me, it will get to the point where even friendlies don’t give a damn.

  10. TheDrDonna says

    @Will, yes, a description of the clothing is relevant. However, describing it as “odd” is unnecessarily editorializing, and your own choice of “bizarre” is a reflection of your prejudices.

  11. says

    There are definitely trans-phobic issues with the article, though the use of “it” when referring to a body is common – although usually it’s paired with a possessive pronoun; but the GLAAD is right, when writing the piece, the writer should’ve known the loaded meaning behind the word “it” and how it is used to denigrate trans-folks.

  12. Bellah says

    wow the trans phobia in this comment section is just as offensive as the Plain Dealer

  13. says

    Bellah – rest assured, it’s just like the profile-less commenters on youtube dropping the N-bomb in comments sections every five minutes. they treat the internet like a burqa because they don’t have the orbs to own their words. anonymous hate is the only outlet they have. pity them.

  14. Will Fostelo says


    No, it isn’t editorializing or a sign of prejudice. It is a matter of fact that very few bodies are found on the street with 3 bras and no pants. That makes it odd and bizarre. If a body were found dressed as Batman or covered in chocolate syrup, that too would be odd and bizarre.

    If we get to a point in history where many bodies are found in this condition, then it won’t be odd or bizarre. Your resistance to accurate, descriptive terms only exposes your prejudice.

    Funny that you seem to care more about this than you do about the actual murder. But that is pretty consistent with the mentality of trans activists. In my experience, they are terribly cruel and cold-hearted people toward others, but are at the same time extremely sensitive toward any perceived slight directed at them. How awful to be a part of such an unkind, inhumane subculture! I feel sorry for you.

  15. TheDrDonna says

    @Will, I would laugh at how inverted your worldview appears to be, but this isn’t the right context for mirth, no matter how sarcastic and derisive it may be.

  16. Katie says

    Little Kiwi said:

    “my truth slaughters your lies.”

    As a transwoman, I find this unbelievably offensive. Did you even think about the context of this discussion when you wrote this? You are a selfish, self-centered cisgendered man who disrespects a murdered transwoman even as you make this all about you. Shame on you.

  17. Will Fostelo says

    Whether and how you laugh is of no concern to me.

    I have no doubt that if the body in question had been the victim of trans violence, such as the killer CeCe McDonald or the trans activists who firebombed Wells Fargo Bank in Portland, then you would be laughing heartily.

  18. ratbastard says

    @Mr. Miller from Toronto by way of Thunder Bay,

    You are an arrogant egocentric, narcissistic, extremely obnoxious, self-righteous control freak and bully. Face it, you are.

  19. Alliefoo says

    This woman died in fear as she was stabbed to death, stripped, and left to rot at the bottom of a pond. This woman lived her life as a woman who was disadvantaged and marginalized by her transsexuality and race. The news has shown a lack of respect my misgendering her, referring to her as “it” and covering irrelevant details that serve to question and undermine her status as a victim. Seriously, since when were hormones “dangerous drugs” and what relevance could not paying a bus fair POSSIBLY have to do with her murder? Was she murdered by the bus driver? Why the hell would they use a mug shot as a picture for her when other pictures were readily available?

    If the Matthew Sheppard case had been reported with the majority of the reporting talking about “poor grades” or a vandalism incident involving eggs at Halloween then the gay community would be up in arms.

    Cemia is a victim. Based on the way her body was left, likely the victim of a hate crime. How can anyone not be upset at the way this case has been handled by news outlets?

  20. Katie says

    Little Kiwi,

    Katie is my legal name. It was legally changed 4 years ago. So you don’t have to put my name in scare quotes. And you think you are supportive of the trans community? You demonstrate the worst kind of transphobia.

    An ally does not make the murder of a trans woman all about himself. And the fact that you have a blog where you said nice things about transfolk doesn’t give you a pass to post disgusting language about slaughter in the context of a brutal murder of a transwoman.

  21. says

    calling me a bully is like running to the teacher to say “This whole fight started when he hit me back!”

    as long as cowards vomit their hatred of transpeople online, and anonymously, my @ss will call it out, and be a visible and vocal supporter of them. because we’re all in it together.

  22. says

    Katie, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

    i used “slaughter” in regards to the anonymous trolls posting anti-trans B.S. under my name. because that’s what truth does – it slaughters lies.

    so either you’re confused by that, in which case this clarity should help you, or your feigning it because perhaps you’re the person who posted under my name who now wants to start a non-fight for no reason.

    either way, saying that i demonstrate “the worst kind of transphobia” is ….well…. both hilarious and sad.

  23. Mary says

    I think all of us here, even those who have been critical of Kiwi in the past, know that these anti-black and anti-trans comments appearing under his name are the work of an imposter. Kiwi’s views are too well known for us to be fooled. His prejudices are the standard ones for someone with his outlook on life – he’s against white Christian conservatives and virtually all Republicans. The only other category of people he dislikes are women who changed from anti-gay to pro-gay and now post regularly on Towleroad!

    But what does “cisgendered” mean?

  24. Katie says


    It is transphobic to put a transwoman’s name in scare quotes. It is transphobic to make lighthearted metaphorical references to “slaughter” relating to one of your internet flame wars, in the context of an actual murder of a transwoman. And it is transphobic and disrespectful to respond to a transwoman who brings this transphobic conduct to your attention by saying that her concerns are “hilarious.”

    I don’t recognize in you and your attitude a supporter. I do see a privileged ego-driven white cis male who is happy to use transfolk and trans issues to elevate himself.

  25. TheDrDonna says

    “Cisgender” means someone who is comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth, as a complementary term to “transgender”, which is someone who is not comfortable in their AAB gender.

  26. says

    it’s not transphobic to put an anonymous person’s name in quotes are there’s no verification that you are who you say you are.

    and i use slaughter, and i will again. why? because lies borne of hatred and prejudice are exactly what lead to murders like the woman in this story.

    none of the things you listed as being “transphobic” are in any way shape or form inherently “transphobic”

    in fact, transphobic comments are on this page. you’ve ignored them and instead focused on me. how odd.

    if you are indeed a transwoman i wish you the best of luck in life. so far, your inability to pick the right battles for the right reasons make it seem like you’re going to need it.

    think what you like of me. but you’ve got it reversed – i use myself to help elevate transpeople and trans issues.

    you’re welcome, btw. 😉

  27. MateoM says

    Katie, LittleKiwi put your name in quotes (not scare quotes, as you suggest) because he assumed you were an alias of one of Towleroad’s infamous trolls, who posts here under the names such as Rick, Jason, David Hearne, Ratbastard, Adam, and I’m sure others. It’s one guy who is a real creep.

    When he put your name in quotes, he was doing so because he assumed you were that same troll posting under a different name to pick a fight. This troll picks fights with Kiwi every day, so I don’t blame him for being skeptical about the identity of posters who go after him,

  28. MateoM says

    Also, despite what you may think, Kiwi has been one of the outspoken trans advocates on this site for quite some time. I’m sorry if you have personal issues with him, but he’s vital considering how much transphobia still ends up in the comments section.

  29. FFS says

    For crying out loud, Andy. Would you catch a clue and start banning IPs, already!

  30. Isaak says

    @alfie: hormones, if not taken under correct medical supervision, can most certainly be dangerous drugs. You start messing with chemical balances like that and things can go very wrong, very quick. Nothing to do with the rest of the debate, but hormones should really be used cautiously and I’d hate for anyone to think otherwise.