2023 Topical Reporting: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Identity, Large Newsroom winner

Deaths in the Family

About the Project

Amid a spike in anti-trans legislation and hate speech in recent years, advocates feared that anti-trans violence was on the rise. But the FBI does not track crimes by gender identity.

Insider assembled a team to fill that gap. Eleven ambitious young reporters spent months combing through local press reports and then sending out hundreds of public records requests. They ultimately identified 175 homicides over five years targeting transgender people across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, hand-building a database using records they obtained from police, prosecutors, coroners, and courts.

In many instances, law enforcement officials refused to hand over their homicide investigation files. In several cases, records were released only after Insider threatened to sue the investigating agency for violating state public records laws, or after our attorneys entered into negotiations with judges, court clerks, or law enforcement agencies. When law enforcement agencies agreed to hand over records, they were often limited to the initial incident report or heavily redacted. In some cases, the only way to report out the cases was to spend thousands of dollars on court transcripts. Since most of the records misnamed the victim, Insider had to keep a log of names assigned at birth for purposes of records requests and law enforcement communications that we knew would never appear in our final stories.

Our reporters supplemented the records we obtained with hundreds of interviews with friends, family, witnesses, jurors, judges, attorneys, law enforcement officials, local reporters, and advocates to determine what happened. In some cases, cultivating family members as sources was complex, as many parents and siblings still referred to victims by their birth names and gender assigned at birth. Some declined to participate in a project about transgender people. Others, witnessing the commitment and sensitivity of our efforts, decided to assist us with obtaining records as next of kin after our own requests were denied.

Law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, and jurors were often unwilling to speak with Insider. But as we blanketed jurisdictions with repeated requests, some of these efforts paid off with startling interviews.

Our findings are shocking: Between 2019 and 2021, as political attacks on the transgender community escalated, transgender homicides doubled. The reporters uncovered a striking failure of accountability — only 16% of cases led to murder convictions, and only three killings over five years resulted in a hate-crimes charge. In the majority of cases, police misgendered the victims, hampering their investigations.

Judges Comments

Intentional and comprehensive, this engaging read is data-driven and centers the real people involved. These are the stories that continuously go unseen, and this piece is a call to action and shows why this work matters.