Reverence, remembrance and covering tragedies respectfully
Editor's Note: This is a content warning for mentions of suicide.
On the night of Sept. 16, Scout Schultz was shot dead by a campus police officer at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Schultz was a 21-year-old computer engineering major and a vocal activist for LGBTQ+ rights as president of their school’s Pride Alliance. They lived their life as a bisexual, nonbinary and intersex individual.
In the campus community, they were loved as a vibrant role model and friend. During their life, they struggled with depression and spent time in counseling after attempting suicide two years ago.
The officer who shot Schultz was not trained in de-escalating encounters with mentally ill people, and had only been on the job for 16 months.
Schultz’s recent death underscores the issues of police violence, mental illness in the LGBTQ+ community and the accountability of journalists who cover such tragedies.
In the past week, the coverage of Schultz’s death spanned university, local and national journalism outlets.
While every publication strived to accurately report the events of that Sept. 16 evening, the ways that writers and editors have approached Schultz’s gender identity range from clumsy to blatantly disrespectful.
Most articles include the following quote from Schultz’s father:
“Why did you have to shoot? That’s the only question that matters right now. Why did you kill my son?”
It may seem inconsequential, but editing the quote to be gender neutral by substituting “son” with [child] could make a huge difference to the queer and transgender community that Schultz helped foster.
Other articles address Schultz’s use of they/them pronouns awkwardly, with qualifiers written along the lines of:
“Schultz... preferred to be referred to by the pronoun ‘they.’”
"Schultz... preferred using 'they/them' pronouns over 'him' or 'her.'"
“They” used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun was voted the Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society in 2015. Additionally, the Associated Press added singular “they/them/their” conventions to their style guide last spring.
There is no need for publications to sensationalize or draw any more attention to Schultz’s gender than they would if Schultz were a cisgender man or woman.
Scout Schultz did not “prefer” to be referred to as someone who was nonbinary. They simply were.
In the wake of their painfully early passing, we can, and should, respect that.