Sexual identity activists are taking first-responders to task for identifying victims of the tragic fire in Oakland, California, according to their actual sex rather than their self-designation. On December 2, a fire at a dilapidated structure known locally as The Ghost Ship killed at least 36 people. Now weakened by the blaze, the initial search for bodies was called off because of the danger of collapse. Authorities are still seeking the bodies of victims believed to be in the ruins.
 
According to the leftist Fusion website, the painful process faced by family and friends to be reconciled to their tragic loss was “even more painful for some” because authorities “misidentified” their loved ones by the sheriff’s department and local media. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, three “transgender women” -- men who seek to appear as women -- were among the dead. The paper identified them as Feral Pines (a.k.a. Riley Fritz), Em Bohlka, and Cash Askew.
 
According to Fusion, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department “dead named” and “misgendered” the deceased Pines in their news releases. “That means the department—and, as a result, some local news outlets—were identifying them by their birth names and genders, which amounts to a denial of trans peoples’ identities even in death. Police frequently use trans peoples’ birth names, especially if they haven’t been changed in their government-issued identification, like a driver’s license.”
 
The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Pines’ friend, Eliza Wicks-Frank, who described her chagrin.“The impact that this lack of dignity and awareness has on the community of trans people who are alive right now is it tells them that their fight is irrelevant, that they’re going to be disrespected regardless of how they fight to live their lives.” The paper reported that Wicks-Frank added, “Many times I had conversations with her about how her greatest fear in death was being misrepresented for her true self. It’s about dignity in death.” An article published by the newspaper, entitled "For transgender victims, respect starts with using name they chose," defined the identification of the victims by their birth names as "deadnaming."  According to the paper, Wicks-Frank prefers gender-neutral pronouns. She was not identified as to his or her natural sex.
 
Local law enforcement admitted that navigating the complex world of gender identification is difficult. 
 
Fire victim Nex Luguolo
 
Authorities in Oakland blame clutter for fueling a fire and blocking exits that killed more than 33 people. 
 
Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo told the San Francisco Chronicle that the building 'has been an issue for a number of years.'
 
The warehouse, known as the Oakland Ghost Ship, was split into artist studios where some artists also illicitly lived. The fire started when 70 people were in the building during an evening musical performance.
 
Bob Mule, a photographer and artist also lived in the building said it was engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes. During his escape, he said he felt his skin peeling and his lungs became suffocated by the smoke. He also said he could not get the fire extinguisher to work.
 
Another survivor who was burned in the fire, Max Ohr, recounted how he tried to rescue his friend but had to leave him behind.
 
Fire victim Travis Hough
 
As the fire grew, Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloche-Reed said that the clutter stopped people from finding their way out. She said when fire crews first entered the building to fight the blaze, they were impeded by a massive amount of clutter that included furniture, works of art, and several mannequins. 
 
'It filled end to end with furniture, whatnot, collections,' Deloach-Reed said. 'It was like a maze almost.' 
 
Just last month city officials cited the owner of the warehouse and had launched an investigation into whether the interior structure was illegal.
 
Firefighters said there is no evidence the fire alarms were activated and there was no sprinkler system inside the two-storey building.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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