On the 18th of January, LGB, and transgender social media in particular, ignited with outrage as an assault on two transwomen in Dortmund, Germany, was reported by some online gay news websites and tabloid papers in a manner that assumed and highlighted that the perpetrators were Arab/Muslim refugees.
The result of such reporting has been outrage and uproar on social media, with people using the actions of three individuals to push anti-refugee agenda and islamophobia.
The three young men, who were reported to be speaking Arabic, are said to have approached the two women, known only as Elisa and Jasmin (whose full names are protected), as they made their way home from the train station.
According to the reports, the men attempted to chat up Elisa, 37, and Jasmin, 50 as they walked down a street in Dortmund.
After a brief chat the men realised the two were transwomen and began screaming abuse, threats and then assault them.
The attack is reported as having involved their breasts being grabbed, being thrown around and being told that they were, “Whores who should be stoned!”, before the youths allegedly pelted stones at them from a nearby gravel bed. Fortunately at this point a police patrol happened upon the assault and intervened to end it and took the three youths into custody.
Bild reports that the 18 year old is already well known to the authorities through previous offences and has been remanded in custody charged with grievous bodily harm. The seventeen year old was released from custody after completion of police procedures and the sixteen year old released to the custody of his parents.
There are two words missing from the German reports. Those words are ‘Muslim’ and ‘Refugee/migrant’. In fact apart from a hint of ethnicity there is no information about the status of the youths. We simply don’t know if they are German citizens, genuine asylum-seeking refugees, or economic migrants to Germany. The British press emphasised that Arabic was spoken during the assault; however, this proves nothing whatsoever – a point hammered home by the fact one of the transwomen speaks Arabic too!
Or put differently, reports were unable to ascertain whether the youths of alleged North African descent were “migrants” (a term used quite a lot in the British press to discredit refugees and portray them as opportunists who wish for a better economic situation), refugees, or simply German citizens.
OK, lets break that down. This is a classic transphobic attack based on gender. Every trans woman fears it happening to them. Unacceptably, such attacks still happen with dreadful regularity in all countries of the world, by perpetrators of all nationalities and ethnicities. It is a sad reflection of the bias of many media corporations that trabsphobic attacks are not reported equally. The world’s media is rarely willing to address the cissexism and mysogyny at the core of transphobic assaults because nearly all the world’s media is owned by cissexist and misogynistic men.
As Jody Norton argued in her essay “Brain Says You’re a Girl, But I Think You’re a Sissy Boy”, transgender people, like gays and lesbians, are hated and feared for being perceived to undermine binary gender norms and the mere existence of trans women “incites transphobia through her implicit challenge to the binary division of gender upon which male cultural and political hegemony depends”. It is vital that the LGBTI community and our allies see through the smoke and mirrors attempt by that hegemony to divert our anger about transphobic hatred into hatred of other minority groups.
The decision of the British gay and mainstream media to selectively report this particular attack out of hundreds of recent transphobic attacks is not benign. The perceved ethnicity (Arab, North African) and prejudged status (migrants, itself a highly judgemental term) and the act, which was described as “stoning”, enable the media to further their right wing agendas. Although Islam is not mentioned directly, the media coverage evokes the image that the youth attacked the trans women because of their religious/ethnic/and presumed (illegal) migrant status. Thousands of trans women each year across Europe get sexually assaulted and have rocks thrown at them in transphobic attacks by males of all ethnicities. To bring that hate crime to an end requires cultural parallels to be drawn with gender-based street harassment rather than religious extremism.
Or put differently, saying that the youth attacked and pelted stones at the transwomen because because of cissexism/transphobia is one thing, but framing it as Gay Star News – “two transgender women stoned in street by migrants in Germany”, or as Pink News and Pinksixty focus on “North African” origins, (mis)portrays a totally different reality. It gives the impression of stoning of women by Muslim extremists, and coupled with the recent sexual assaults in Koln on New Year’s Even, it narrates a totally different story.
As Tehmina Kazi, the director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, told us: “Media outlets should carry out due diligence before making assumptions/judgments about the residency/religious/ethnic background of the perpetrators. The facts of the case show that it is a transphobic assault, like other cases it is carried out by straight men the world over, it has nothing to do with the presumed and emphasised background.”
While doing the research for this piece, we found many articles on extreme right-wing violence in Dortmund. For example, Local.de reported neo-Nazis being arrested after attacking four young men with a baseball bat after asking were they German or not.
In conflating gender-based violence into something specific to being Arab, Muslim and/or “migrant”, the media is dehumanising and discrediting those desperate and displaced people fleeing extreme violence themselves.
Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, an interfaith and anti-extremist organisation which runs the TELL MAMA anti-Muslim violence helpline, commented: “spin stories like this are dangerous in the manner in which personal prejudices and perceptions creep in. They can seriously fracture relations on the basis of untruths that are regurgitated by press sources as one source cites another leading to untruths becoming facts.
If you joined in with the jingoistic outpouring of discrimination and stigmatisation of refugees and/or Muslims, we hope you will rethink your attitude towards them. The LGBTI equality movement is about compassion and reducing inequality and promoting human rights. It has no place for jingoistic hatred inciting others into islamophobia in any form as the British press seems to be doing with this story.