Unless you've been following the work of Monica Roberts, The Opposing Views and David Lohr over at The Huffington Post, you probably don't know that a trans teenage girl from Charlottesville, Va., has been missing for nearly 20 days. By flipping through mainstream newspapers or watching the evening news -- both nationally and locally -- you wouldn't know that Sage Smith, 19, was reportedly last seen by her family on Nov. 20, and police, despite allegedly "working daily on the case," haven't been able to locate a suspect, a man whom they had previously interviewed. You also wouldn't know that her family and friends have had to organize their own search-and-rescue missions, because by most estimations the police aren't doing enough, and judging by their comments to media, they have little if any respect for transgender individuals.
Since Sage Smith was first reported missing on Nov. 22, there has been virtually no mainstream media coverage of her abduction. There has only been one local story produced, and in it reporters consistently use the wrong pronouns to identify her, and the story only mentions the name she lives by once, as though it were a nickname. Even worse, the local authorities who are spearheading the search for her have reportedly lost their suspect without much hope of finding her.
"I can't brag on Charlottesville when my little 19-year-old cousin is missing," Kenneth Jackson, Sage Smith's cousin, told members of the Charlottesville City Council on Monday, adding that the FBI and state police should be called in to help with the search. "Chief, the police department has not done what it's supposed to do to find our child," Jackson said.
As the search for Sage continues, so do the questions about the police investigation, including how they managed to interview the main suspect only to have him slip away without any trace. There's also something to be said for the lack of attention Smith's story has garnered both locally and national.
To call the mainstream media's silence on Sage Smith's story deafening would be an understatement. Really, it's bigger. That someone's son or daughter, trans-identified or not, can go missing from their family for nearly 20 days and there be no national or even local outcry is more than enraging; it's terrifying.
Sadly enough, the media's shameful history of turning a blind eye to stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people of color is well known to those of us who are of these communities or who watch the media carefully. And sadly, very little attention is paid to the LGBTQ young people who make up as much as 40 percent of our country's homeless youth population.
The failure to show LGBTQ people of color as active and vital members of our communities and families perpetuates the dangerous stereotype that LGBTQ people of color are either nonexistent or that our identities are invalid. The media has failed to shine light on the targeted violence that trans women of color continue to endure. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 40 percent of anti-LGBT murder victims in 2011 were transgender women; there have been 11 reported murders of trans women in the U.S. this year alone. The media have also failed to contextualize that violence alongside the discrimination that trans women of color face as a result of racism, misogyny and transphobia, and most Americans are unaware of these severe disparities in access and opportunity. Were any of these things factors in Sage's disappearance? We don't know. But by ignoring her story, the media are further alienating an already marginalized community and identity. We've seen this story before. Remember Mitrice Richardson? She was a 24-year-old African-American lesbian woman who was missing for nearly a year before police uncovered her dead body.
Telling the stories of LGBTQ people of color is more than simply the right thing to do; it is a matter of journalistic integrity. When outlets make a choice not to tell certain stories, especially those that affect communities as deeply as Sage's, they lose value and credence with audiences and communities. It also sends the message that certain stories and perspectives are more valuable than others. If Sage Smith has met the same fate as Mitrice Richardson, could more media attention early on have saved her life?
Sage Smith's story, her family's pain and her community's concern are as valid as any other story, and these voices deserve to be heard. So again, I and the rest of the community ask: Where is Sage Smith?