For more resources and information on transgender inequality and discrimination, check out the National Center for Transgender Equality.
As the title suggests, everything on this blog concerns violence against trans women.
The Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project is a trans feminist project addressing issues of systematic, institutional and interpersonal violence and oppression experienced by trans women (those who were coercively assigned male at birth and identify or are identified as women/female) across multiple identities (e.g., race, class, dis/ability, citizen-status, nationality, sexuality, age, HIV status, and form, status, or age of transition, etc.)
Ida Hammer is a writer and social justice communicator. She organizes the Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project. She presents workshops and trainings on cis privilege and being a trans ally. She's also involved in organizing against sexualized violence. She's a proud dyke-identified trans woman and an organizer of the New York City Dyke March.
A wildly insensitive New York Times article on the life and death of trans artist and drag performer Lorena Escalera flared tensions between the [trans and] gender-variant community and the paper when it was published as part of the Sunday edition on May 14. The article, called “Woman Dies in a Brooklyn Fire That Is Deemed Suspicious,” served as a painful exemplar of the media’s salacious, oversexualized understanding of trans women of color, said Carmen Carrera, Escalera’s friend and fellow trans-identified drag performer. Carrera is most widely known for her performance on the third season of Logo reality series RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“You know what it is? I knew Lorena from shows we did in the New York City scene,” said Carrera in an interview with me. “She was much more than what they were trying to portray her as. She was always happy, always having a good time. And she was definitely a big inspiration to me.”
Left to right: Raven, Lorena Escalera, Carmen Carrera
Escalera, whose success as a drag performer likely inspired many, was a direct influence on Ms. Carrera, who recently came out as transgender herself.
“When I read that article, I was like, ‘Wow, are you serious?’” she said. “They put her gender above everything else. My first thought was, ‘When I die, is that how it’ll be? Nothing’s going to matter besides my gender? Nothing I do for others, nothing else? What’s the point, then?’”
Carrera described her disgust with The New York Times’ depiction of Escalera as “curvaceous” and the fact that the writers of the article (Al Baker and Nate Schweber) depicted Escalera as a 25-year-old woman who “often drew admiring glances in the gritty Brooklyn neighborhood where she was known to invite men for visits to her apartment.”
“If she was a non-trans female that was killed, they wouldn’t have described her like that,” she said. “The article makes it OK to portray trans people like, ‘Oh, she was an escort. Oh, she was promiscuous.’ It’s just disrespectful and shows so much ignorance.”
Carrera, who recently made an appearance on the television show What Would You Do? as herself, said she lives as openly trans in order to combat such ignorance. In the episode of What Would You Do? Carrera plays a waitress confronting an angry longtime customer. The actor opposite Carrera is supposedly disgusted to find out that Carmen was once “Christopher” and used to identify as “he.” The show was meant to raise awareness of trans issues.
“Sometimes I feel so discouraged,” said Carrera. “Why do I feel like I can’t have any pride in myself? The only thing that really keeps me focused is just doing what I do, doing my shows, being a positive role model. That’s it.”
Carrera says she chooses to live with ”utmost fabulosity,” regardless of offensive comments and questions thrown in her direction.
“No matter what they tell you, being trans is definitely nothing to be ashamed of. It’s the coolest thing around,” she said. “Believe that.”
With a similar “utmost fabulosity,” Janet Mock, an editor at People.com, recently began a Twitter campaign called “#girlslikeus” for trans women and girls of color whose identities are so often negatively portrayed in the media and elsewhere.
“Where do we begin?” said Mock in an interview with me regarding the Times article. “It’s kind of like a double-edged sword. When [the media] finds out that someone is a trans person of color, they seem to either ignore the story or blow gross stereotypes of transgender women way out of proportion.”
Mock made reference to the lack of coverage for CeCe McDonald and Paige Clay, two trans women of color whose stories of injustice received virtually no mainstream media attention. She said that following the NYT article, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) contacted her for a statement after seeing her outrage over Escalara’s story on Twitter. She gave them a statement, and GLAAD responded by amplifying the #girlslikeus campaign.
“I just felt bad for Lorena and the people who love her. It was a tough life to live, and she lived it gracefully and wonderfully,” said Mock. “We lost someone who was very loved. And in that article, they stripped away her dignity in such a way that it was extremely disheartening. So it tells me: You can go to the pinnacle of what our community says is success, be a role model like her, and still be beat down. It was extremely upsetting.”
Following a statement released by GLAAD, New York Times Metro Editor Carolyn Ryan issued a comment on behalf of the paper.
“We typically try to capture the personal stories of those whose lives are lost in a fire, and we sought to do so in this case,” wrote Ryan. “We certainly did not mean any disrespect to the victim or those who knew her. But, in retrospect, we should have shown more care in our choice of words.”
“That’s where it scares me,” said Mock in response to the statement. She was frustrated not only with the Times’ use of words such as “curvaceous” but with parts of the article that objectified Escalera as a person only emulating a woman, someone who tricked men into sleeping with her. At one point, the Times quotes Oscar Hernandez, a mechanic familiar with Escalera.
“For a man, he was gorgeous,” Mr. Hernandez said in the article, which also quotes him as taking note of “Ms. Escalera’s flowing hair and ‘hourglass figure.’”
Is that type of reportage simply a misstep of word choice?
“It was just sloppy and arrogant,” she said. “The Times won’t even step up and say they were really wrong. It’s beyond a choice of words. To me, this incident shows that [we as a community] are not organized enough yet to fight back at something like The New York Times. We need to organize. We need to make sure our voices matter.”
In an attempt to provide this type of organized, vocal support for trans people in the press, a new grassroots group called the Trans/Gender Identity Media Advocacy (TIMA) organization is being formed on behalf of gender-variant people in the U.S. (full disclosure: I am an active member of the organization). TIMA aims to address egregious media portrayals such as Escalera’s and supports accurate representations of gender-variant people in the media within larger conversations on race, ableism, class, and other intersecting identities. The group is offering free media consultations for trans/gender-nonconforming people involved in potential press projects, people who are currently having difficulty with the press, and media members covering trans-related topics. To contact TIMA, visit their website here.
“We need more support. And we need more sensitivity from the media. See, the thing is this, I love myself,” said Carrera at the close of our interview. “I just wish people would accept me for how I accept myself. Accepting myself is hard enough. I can’t please everyone; I just wish people would have respect, especially for someone like Lorena.”
(Emerson Whitney, Huffington Post)
It is enough to make the blood boil. Opened up the 5/9 City Pages to photos of Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald and was torn in two directions. To the left, she wore a bright, heartwarming smile, grinning wrist to wrist with nothing short of captivating radiance. To the right, she looked like hell, her face savaged, bleeding. Hell of a contrast. How’d it come about?
Well, CeCe and a few friends, minding their business as they went on a food-run to the local supermarket, were set upon in South Minneapolis by patrons of a bar, Schooner Tavern, who’d stepped onto the sidewalk to have a smoke and, presumably, shoot the accustomed sugar, honey, iced tea. And, when they spotted CeCe and company going down the street, promptly began fouling with them.
Being White in these Twin Cities so renowned for supposed social progress, Dean Schmitz and company felt absolutely entitled to assail Cece McDonald, who is Black, with racial and homophobic epithets. On a drawing board, the ideal thing would’ve been for CeCe (she’s transsexual) and her friends to ignore these ignorant fools and go on about their business.
Fact is, we don’t live on a drawing board. And it is understandable that they talked mess right back. Which led to throwing down in the parking lot.
A woman crashed her glass into CeCe’s face, leaving a gash it took 20-odd stitches to close. Whereupon CeCe, it’s reported, turned to get the hell out of there only to be pursued, persistently hounded and harassed by Schmitz. Whom she stabbed. In what can — never mind reasonably — what can only be construed as self-defense. He died at the scene.
Dean Schmitz brought his death on himself, never having the first idea a
“faggot” would fight back. This one did. And, taking a plea bargain instead of serving 25 years or more, she will spend the next three years locked up. For a crime she did not commit.
She didn’t murder him in the second degree, as the charge read. Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald killed Dean Schmitz to keep him from killing her. And now she won’t see daylight for a long time.
None of this is the worst of it. The real thing is that Black people in Minneapolis and St. Paul have given piss-poor support to one of ours in desperate need. Where is that knee-jerk Mau-Mau Northside posse when there’s no photo-op to advance vested agendas?
It’s a sad day when White kids at, of all elitist institutions, the University of Minnesota have a Black person’s back better than Black people do — last month, there was a conference hall there packed with supporters. It’s a cryin’ shame.
And, for all we are great at Bible-thumping, calling on the Holy Ghost and all the rest of it, this is not about whether God created Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve. It is about one of our children — McDonald isn’t but 20-something — being as close to lynched as possible. (Had Schmidt and them other Neanderthals who’d just come out of a bar had their hands on a rope, what do you think would have happened?)
And then being railroaded through the criminal justice system! (Richard Pryor summed that up perfectly with his quip on justice: “Come down to the jail and that’s what you’ll find — just us.”)
You have to ask why on earth CeCe McDonald would cop to a bogus plea instead of fighting for her right to be freed. Then you have to look at what she was facing at a trial, a jury of her peers. Right. More than likely 12 White suburbanites, born and bred to a credo that, out of hand, considers same-sex marriages an inherent abomination and looks on transsexuals as some sort of freakish miscarriage of mankind.
Tragic as it is, in the same place, you or I might well have, in this let’s-make-a-deal excuse for true justice, taken the same lesser of available evils. Still, that doesn’t make it right.
Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, odds are, will have one hell of a book deal in the offing when the prison bars open back up. Meanwhile, she is jacked up. And hunting season is open on the next one.(By Dwight Hobbes, MN Spokeman-Recorder)
To my listeners, friends & supporters -
I’m currently in Utah, shooting a video for “WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?” an upcoming single from “HOUSE OF BEES VOL. 2″. The song, which some of you have heard on the road this year, deals strongly and directly with issues of homophobia in rap, social justice, and the need to take a stand and lend a voice to those struggles.
In the process of developing our video treatment, SAGE FRANCIS brought to my attention the story of CRISHAUN “CECE” MCDONALD, a transgender woman of color from Minneapolis who is currently defending herself against second degree murder charges for killing the man who attacked her.
You can read more about the details of the case here, but suffice it to say it’s an incredible miscarriage of justice, and a heart-breaking example of the systemic discrimination facing people of color and LGBT folks on a daily basis.
In one of many examples of her unfair treatment, the judge in this case refused to admit into evidence the Swastika tattoo on the chest of Cece’s attacker, or his previous record of assaulting his ex-girlfriend and her 14 year old daughter. By way of contrast, a bad check that Cece was convicted of writing once has been entered as evidence.
Cece has accepted a plea agreement that forces her to give up her ‘self defense’ claim in exchange for a reduced sentence. On JUNE 4TH, she will be sentenced. She will have a violent felony added to her record, and probably be given a sentence of three and-a-half years in prison, having already served a year since her arrest… all for defending herself against a hate crime.
I am currently working with a network of activists and friends in Minneapolis that include members of the STRANGE FAMOUS, RHYMESAYERS and DOOMTREE camps. We’re also coordinating closely with the TRANS YOUTH SUPPORT NETWORK, to draw attention to this case and the protests against it.
The plan is to make these demonstrations a central part of the video, and use the single and video to raise awareness of Cece’s story.
WE NEED YOU TO JOIN US ON THE FOLLOWING DATES:
THIS SATURDAY, MAY 26TH, is CECE’S BIRTHDAY. Her friends and family are planning a NOISE DEMONSTRATION and “BIRTHDAY PARTY” outside the jail to let Cece know people are thinking of her.
WHERE: HENNEPIN COUNTY PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY (JAIL)
THEN, ON JUNE 4TH @ 10pm, CECE WILL BE SENTENCED, AND I’LL BE FLYING OUT TO MINNEAPOLIS TO JOIN IN THE PROTEST.
WHERE: HENNEPIN COUNTY PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY (JAIL)
It’s times like these when the political thought we all nod our heads to at rap shows needs to turn into organized action. We’re trying to get as many people out for both of these as possible, so please spread the word!
READ STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FOR CECE MCDONALD FROM NUMEROUS NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AND POLITICAL OFFICIALS: http://supportcece.wordpress.com/support-statements/
I know that our supporters in Minneapolis are some of the most fired up, engaged people we know and talk to anywhere in the world, and I thank you in advance for standing with me in response to this.
Stay on the battlefield,
A Minneapolis [cis] woman is charged with starting a fight outside a bar last year that left a friend of hers dead and led to murder charges against Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, in a case that became a rallying point for the transgender community.
Molly Shannon Flaherty, 41, was charged May 11 with second-degree assault with a deadly weapon and third-degree assault causing substantial bodily harm, both felonies, for allegedly smashing a glass in McDonald’s face outside the Schooner Bar in Minneapolis on June 5.
The Washington County attorney’s office is handling the case to avoid a conflict of interest because Hennepin County prosecutors charged McDonald with second-degree murder for stabbing Dean Schmitz, 47, in the melee.
McDonald, who is [a] transgender
and lives as awoman, pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter May 2 and is expected to be sentenced to three and half years in prison. For months before the plea, McDonald’s supporters protested the charges.
Flaherty and Schmitz were among a group smoking cigarettes outside the bar just after midnight when McDonald and friends walked by, the charges said. Schmitz allegedly began hurling racial, homophobic and transgender slurs at McDonald’s group, who then confronted Schmitz, the charges said.
A fight began when Flaherty allegedly threw or pushed a bar glass in McDonald’s face, causing a gash that required 11 stitches. A witness not with either group reported seeing Flaherty on the ground and Schmitz trying to pull people off her and out of the fight. The witness then saw Schmitz step backward, hold his hand up to his shirt and say, “You stabbed me.” McDonald allegedly said, “Yes, I did,” and walked away.
In a statement, Washington County Attorney Peter Orput said charges against Flaherty were delayed because McDonald did not speak to investigators before her trial. Once she entered a plea, the case moved forward.
Flaherty was booked into the Hennepin County jail May 15. She was released the next day on $15,000 bail. She did not immediately return a telephone message for comment.
(By Abby Simons, Star Tribune)
Around midnight on June 5, 2011, a 23-year-old African American transgender woman named Crishaun “CeCe” McDonald was walking with four friends past Schooner Tavern in Minneapolis. A group of at least four white people outside the bar began harassing McDonald and her friends, calling the group, all of whom were African American, “niggers” and “faggots.” One of the men in the group, who would later be identified as Dean Schmitz, said “look at that boy dressed like a girl tucking her dick in.” As McDonald and her friends tried to walk away, Schmitz’s ex-girlfriend Molly Flaherty hit McDonald in the face with a glass of alcohol and sliced open her cheek, causing an injury that would later require stitches. The groups began fighting, and when McDonald attempted to leave the scene, Schmitz followed. McDonald took a pair of scissors out of her purse and turned around to face Schmitz; he was stabbed in the chest and died from the wound. Though she was injured in the scuffle with Flaherty and claimed the wound inflicted on Schmitz was in self-defense, McDonald was arrested that night and then charged with second-degree intentional murder.
Since her arrest last June, support for McDonald’s case and her self-defense argument has been steadily growing. According to Katie Burgess, executive director of the Trans Youth Support Network, a Minneapolis organization that McDonald was also involved with, this is because many believe McDonald was “on trial for surviving a hate crime.”
On October 7, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that McDonald refused to accept a plea deal of first-degree manslaughter. That’s when prosecutors charged her with second-degree intentional murder, a charge that can carry a 40-year sentence. But as the jury was being selected for the trial on May 2, McDonald accepted a plea offer of second-degree manslaughter, which is likely to result in a 41-month prison sentence. In accepting the plea, McDonald had to give up her claim that she’d killed Schmitz in self-defense or by accident and had to forego a jury trial. At the plea hearing, Judge Daniel C. Moreno told McDonald that because she had a weapon and Schmitz was unarmed, “the law requires that you have a duty to handle that weapon in such a way as to avoid…anyone being harmed.”
Schmitz’s family expressed grief at his death in a news report by the local Fox affiliate. Jeremy Williams, his son, said, “He always used to go out of his way to help people…He would give the shirt off his back to help people. He was, overall, a great person.” However, the victim’s brother, Charles Pelfrey, told the Star-Tribune he wasn’t surprised at the allegation that Schmitz had used racist language. “At times he can be like that, yes…It depends on his mood, unfortunately,” Pelfrey said.
During the process of jury selection, Judge Moreno denied several motions from the defense to submit details about the victim and his past as evidence, including a photo from the autopsy report showing Schmitz’s swastika tattoo and his criminal record. According to Andy Birkey in the American Independent, “The judge ruled that his criminal history was sufficiently different from his actions on June 5 and therefore could not be shown to the jury.”
The judge also ruled that the defense could not call an expert witness who would testify to transgender people’s experiences of violence in their everyday lives. For supporters like Burgess and Lex Horan, the reports that Schmitz and his friends initiated the fight that night, shouted racist and transphobic slurs, and injured McDonald bring to mind other cases of violence against transgender people—a violence that’s endemic and likely underreported, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a DC-based nonprofit that analyzes data on demographics.
On April 27, McDonald’s friend Rai’vyn Cross spoke on Democracy Now about the threats and harassment she and McDonald regularly encountered, saying, “We experience this on a day-to-day basis.” Recent research and reports on violence against transgender women have found that, in 2010, 44 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-affected hate-crime murder victims were trans women. In 2009, trans women accounted for 50 percent of LGBTQH hate-crime murder victims. A transgender woman named Brandy Martell was shot in her car in Oakland, California, on April 29, in what is being called a possible hate crime, and on April 16, a Chicago transgender woman named Paige Clay was found murdered in an alley.
For those who believe McDonald has survived a transphobic attack, the fact that she’s now facing a felony sentence and prison time is particularly upsetting. Transgender people are arrested and incarcerated at a significantly greater rate than the general population. In a 2011 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force on discrimination and harassment facing transgender people, 16 percent of respondents reported they’d been sent to jail at some point in their lives. The numbers are higher for transgender women—21 percent—and black respondents, 47 percent of whom reported being sent to jail. As a point of reference, a 2003 report of the Department of Justice shows that 2.7 percent of the general American population is imprisoned at some point in life.
In a statement released after the plea hearing, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office acknowledged that it had “received some criticism from the LGBTQ community regarding this case,” but it defended the decision to charge McDonald, saying, “Gender, race, sexual orientation and class are not part of the decision-making process. The charges filed took into account the evidence in this case; this outcome is an example of the criminal justice responding proportionately to a tragic situation.”
Still, Michael Friedman, the executive director of the Minneapolis-based Legal Rights Center, which represented McDonald, says that while it’s not uncommon for murder charges to get reduced to manslaughter, the offer of a plea that could carry a much lower prison sentence is “perhaps a reflection that [the prosecutors] know there’s a lot of culpability on the part of the victims and companions of the victim in the case.” He also clarified that one-third of the sentence will be eliminated for “presumed good time” and the sentence will include the time she’s already spent in jail since her arrest. After sentencing, this could mean McDonald serves around 18 months in prison. “We have a few people in our office with 20 years of experience, no one can think of any charge of murder where [the prosecution] agreed to an 18-month additional sentence.”
The focus for McDonald’s supporters and legal team is now on her June 4 sentencing.
Which raises the question: As a trans woman, where will McDonald serve the rest of her sentence? Prison is a particularly dangerous place for transgender women. If not in protective custody or solitary confinement, they often serve time in the general male population, leaving them vulnerable to sexual assault and abuse. While awaiting trial, McDonald was held in segregated custody in jail and spent some time under house arrest wearing a monitoring bracelet. McDonald identifies and lives as a woman; however, Friedman says, “there’s no way she’s going to be sent to a women’s prison.” Solitary confinement, usually used as a form of punishment within prison, is far from ideal for trans prisoners, but Friedman says, “We haven’t figured out what we’re going to ask for yet. It’s all brand new.”
Though very little about the context of McDonald’s life as a transgender woman would have been admissible during the jury trial, this case has become a rallying point for local leaders and national activists. On the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC in April, during a segment on social and economic challenges facing transgender people, author and performer Kate Bornstein talked about the case. Comparing McDonald’s actions to those of George Zimmerman, who wasn’t arrested for shooting Trayvon Martin until nearly six weeks after the incident, Harris-Perry said, “In a certain way it feels like she stood her ground.”
Over 18,000 people signed a Change.org petition, asking that Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman “honor his committment [sic], in his words ‘to serve all of our citizens with understanding, dignity, and respect’ by dropping the charges against CeCe McDonald.”
Several local elected officials also commented on the case. Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon wrote on his blog: “Here is another example [of a] transgender women of color being targeted for hate- and bias-related violence. It is unfortunate that in this case, as in so many, the hate crime itself appears to have been ignored.” According to Minneapolis Public Radio, Democratic Minnesota state Rep. Susan Allen wrote to Freeman, “urging him to remember the ‘extenuating circumstances’ of McDonald’s race and transgender, which she said ‘have cast unique question marks’ over the case.”
Lex Horan, a member of the “CeCe Support Committee,” says that approximately 30 supporters had been present in the court room each day. The judge prohibited supporters from wearing T-shirts and buttons that say “Free CeCe” and “Free Honee Bea,” McDonald’s nickname, so instead they wore purple. According to Katie Burgess, on the night after McDonald took the plea, there was a noise demonstration in which “hundreds of people marched around the jail and made a ridiculous amount of noise. CeCe said she heard us singing.” Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, who attended the first day of the trial, told press that, “People are being killed out there, and CeCe is being punished for not being killed.”
(By Nicole Pasulka, Mother Jones)
Trigger Warning: Rape Culture, Physical Violence, Prison Industrial Complex, Neoliberal Gay & Lesbian Events
Sylvia Rivera’s *amazing* speech in 1973 at the Christopher Street Liberation Day from my talk at the We Who Feel Differently Symposium; she gets on stage after being beaten up, boo’ed and refused speaking time to talk about the trans people left behind by the gay movement, specifically people in jail. I’m also reflecting on CeCe McDonald’s case & what it means for our movement. All the audio from the We Who Feel Differently Symposium is now available to listen and download as mp3 tracks online here: http://wewhofeeldifferently.info/ephemera.php#Symposium
Wow! and the pictures are SO GOOD! thanks to everyone who organized such a great event.
We Who Feel Differently: Journal” launched its second issue in May, “Disastrous Inclusion: Critical Reflections on the Legacy of DADT” guest edited by Ryan Conrad and featuring texts by: Karma Chávez, Ian Finkenbinder, LAGAI, Tamara K. Nopper, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. http://wewhofeeldifferently.info/journal.php
really worth checking out!
This is a beautiful talk by Reina Gossett that amplifies the voices of Sylvia Rivera and CeCe McDonald. All three of these women are huge inspirations to me and my work.
Sylvia Rivera is such a beautiful person and an inspiration. I heard about her speech in 1973 and what happened to her, but it breaks my heart to actually hear the hatred that she experienced. To hear her talking about imprisonment and rape of trans women and the crowd yelling at her to shut up. To hear her talking about women’s liberation and knowing that self-identified “feminists” physically assaulted her and that she was so devastated that she actually tried to take her own life.
CeCe McDonald’s words bring us full circle and show us how little has really changed in the last 39 years. We’re just now catching up to the greatness of Sylvia Rivera. It’s only last week new guidelines were announced regarding the issues of trans women being raped in prison that she talked about four decades ago. And this is simply the beginning. Why did has take so long? We know why. If Sylvia Rivera and other trans women revolutionaries weren’t exiled from the movement in 1973, imagine where we might be now.
WW photo: Leslie Feinberg
The second-degree murder trial of Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald in Minneapolis started April 30 and ended May 2. McDonald’s situation highlights the anti-transgender bigotry and racism rampant in society, as well as the inability of the “justice” system to mete out justice for the oppressed.
McDonald, a young African-American trans woman, survived a racist, anti-trans attack in July 2011. As she and her friends, all of them youths, African-American and queer or allied, walked to a grocery store late one night, they were brutally set upon by a group of racist whites outside a bar. McDonald was hit in the face with a glass and her cheek severely punctured. She was jailed and was the only person charged after a melee that left one of her attackers, a racist complete with a swastika tattooed on his body, dead.
Originally charged with second-degree felony murder and facing a possible sentence of decades in prison, McDonald agreed to the prosecution’s offer of pleading guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter, with a prison term of 41 months.
Katie Burgess, of the Trans Youth Support Network, stated in a press release: “The executed sentence will be reduced by one-third, for ‘good time’ and credit for the time McDonald has served pending this resolution.
“The plea agreement comes nearly a year after McDonald was arrested, interrogated, denied adequate medical care for a laceration she suffered during the attack and held in solitary confinement for a month for being a transgender person. During the pre-trial proceedings, supporters raised worldwide support for the charges against McDonald to be dropped. [In April], supporters delivered to Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman a petition for dropping the charges with over 15,000 signatures and dozens of letters of support for McDonald from organizations and prominent individuals from around the globe.” (supportcece.wordpress.com, May 2)
Criminalized for fighting back, surviving
Transgender people of color face violence, murder and injustice daily throughout the United States. For surviving her attack, McDonald is criminalized. Others are not so “lucky.”
On April 16, Paige Clay was found dead in Chicago’s West Garfield Park from a single gunshot to her forehead. Clay, 23, was a trans woman of color. No one has been arrested for her murder. Brandy Martell was shot and killed on April 29 in Oakland, Calif., as she sat in her car, talking with three trans friends. The killer fired even as she tried to drive away. Martell, 37, was a trans woman of color and a peer advocate for transgender people in need of psychological and medical assistance. No arrests have been made. (xojane.com, May 9)
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs issued a report in 2011 on “hate” violence motivated by gender identity and expression, sexuality and HIV status. A whopping 70 percent of anti-lesbian/gay/bi/trans murders in 2010 were of people of color. Forty-four percent of these victims were transgender women. (colorlines.com, July 18)
McDonald, like other trans women, will most likely face threats of sexual and other violence when she is incarcerated in an all-male facility.
The struggle for justice for McDonald continues. Stated Burgess: “We know that this system is not designed to deliver justice to young trans women of color. We are going to continue to support CeCe as she goes through this process and continue to stand for justice for all trans people and people of color so that this is the last time a young trans woman of color has to go through this.”
Supporters in Minneapolis and surrounding areas are urged to attend her sentencing on June 4 at 1:30 p.m., in the courtroom of Hennepin County Judge Daniel Moreno. A petition urging Minnesota’s governor to pardon McDonald can be signed at change.org/petitions/gov-mark-dayton-pardon-cece-mcdonald. Visit supportcece.wordpress.com for more information on how to support justice for McDonald and other trans people and people of color.
(By Kris Hamel, Workers World)
A black transgender woman faces prison for killing her attacker. Her supporters call that a crime.
“I never thought I would make it past my 16th birthday. To grow up and have that thought at a young age is unsettling — the thought or feeling of knowing or expecting that today could be my last day on Earth, only because someone hates me for being the person I felt would make my life happiest.” —CeCe McDonald
In a matter of moments, on a warm summer night last June in St. Paul, Minn., what started out as an innocent trip to a grocery store for Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald and her friends quickly turned into a street brawl that would result in someone being killed. McDonald, a 23-year-old black transgender woman and college student, and a few of her friends (black people who variously identify as LGBT and straight) passed a local bar, where they encountered two white women and one white man. The man, Dean Schmitz, hurled racist, homophobic and transphobic epithets at the young group of color as they walked by.
“Chicks with d—ks!”
And then it got violent.
One of the two white women with Schmitz smashed a beer glass on McDonald’s face. People from the bar spilled out into the streets to help the white trio fight the black youths. Somewhere in between fists and insults being thrown, McDonald took out a pair of scissors from her purse and stabbed Schmitz, who died at the scene.
Despite claiming self-defense, that same night McDonald, after being treated for injuries, was interrogated and ultimately charged with second-degree murder. She was also kept in jail for two months.
It’s incredibly hard to ignore the similarities and the hypocrisy between the killing of Trayvon Martin and McDonald’s attack. Both were young and black and walking down the street minding their own business. Both were harassed and attacked for being different. But both had very different outcomes.
George Zimmerman, who stalked and killed 17-year-old Trayvon, cited self-defense, although he showed no real signs of having been in a life-threatening struggle. And even though the lead detective on the case believed that Trayvon’s death was a homicide, Zimmerman was set free. Granted, he was arrested seven weeks later, but that would have never happened without a national outcry sparked by social media, determined journalists and Trayvon’s heartbroken parents.
Meanwhile, McDonald survived her attack; her attacker didn’t. And despite the fact that she had deep lacerations on her face and the police never found the murder weapon, she was still charged with second-degree murder and thrown in jail for months. Even worse, the judge wouldn’t let her lawyer bring up in court that her attacker had swastikas tattooed on his body and had a history of assault.
Her trial, which began the first week of May, ended quickly when McDonald pleaded guilty to a lesser charge: second-degree manslaughter. I’m not sure why she agreed to a plea deal, but given that the judge referred to her account of what happened as “unreliable” and openly chastised her for having scissors in her purse, perhaps McDonald believed that the jury would react to her in the same biased and unsympathetic manner and hand down a conviction.
In a way, like her actions in front of the bar that night, this plea deal might have been another act of survival. Most likely, she will spend only 20 of the likely 40-month sentence in jail for time served, but she will be held in a men’s prison and will possibly be subjected to severe harassment and sexual assault.
Her sentencing will take place on June 4.
Clearly, the ordeals of McDonald and Trayvon Martin (and Marissa Alexander, who received 20 years in prison for shooting a gun near an abusive husband) are clear examples of how flawed our justice system is and how difficult it is for black people (heterosexual and LGBT) to claim victimhood in this country. And while hate crimes and the threat of violence have always been black people’s reality, it’s important to understand that transgender women and gender-nonconforming individuals of color are especially vulnerable to these types of attacks.
Just in the past two months, it’s been reported that Paige Clay of Chicago, Coko Williams of Detroit and Brandy Martell of Oakland — all of them black transgender women — were shot and found dead. All of these cases are being investigated as possible hate crimes.
And the existing data paint an even more disheartening story.
According to a 2011 study (pdf) conducted by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, people who were both transgender and of color were almost 2.5 times more likely to experience discrimination and nearly two times as likely to experience intimidation as non-transgender white individuals. Also, half of those who experienced hate violence did not contact the police after their attack. A 2009 report conducted by the same group found that of the 22 people who were murdered in 2009 because of their sexual orientation, about 80 percent were people of color and half were transgender women; the other half were overwhelmingly men who defied gender stereotypes.
It’s also important to note that the trans community’s relationship with law enforcement is just as grim. In 2011 a National Center for Transgender Equality and National Lesbian and Gay Task Force survey of 381 black transgender men and women (pdf) found that 38 percent of those surveyed who had interacted with the police reported harassment by officials, 14 percent reported physical assault and 6 percent reported sexual assault. Another 35 percent of black transgender people said that they had been arrested or held in a cell because of bias at some point in their lives, and 51 percent reported discomfort seeking police assistance.
Given that systems continue to fail the ones who need it the most, what are transgender people of color supposed to do? The answer depends on whom you ask.
Some might offer: Do nothing, because the crime isn’t the violence committed against you. The crime is your very existence, being out in the open and not being ashamed of who you are.
McDonald, the Newark 4 or Darnell “Dynasty” Young (the gay student who brought a stun gun to school to fight off his bullies) would most likely tell you: You fight back; you fight for your life, because no one else has your back.
As long as our society continues to co-sign on the former sentiment, black transgender people like CeCe McDonald will continue to look over their shoulders, scared as hell, knowing that when danger lurks, if they have the audacity to fight back and not allow themselves to be killed, there’s a good chance that they are the ones who will be punished. The message is crystal clear: Transgender people have very little value in this world, dead or alive.
Kellee Terrell is an award-winning Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer who writes about race, gender, health and pop culture. Terrell is also the news editor for thebody.com, a website about HIV/AIDS. She blogs about health for BET.com. Follow her on Twitter.
CeCe McDonald is not just the victim of a hate crime: she is, moreover, the victim of a racist and transphobic criminal punishment system. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Website, in a post about McDonald’s sentencing, stated, “Gender, race, sexual orientation and class are not part of the decision-making process.” The post went on to call the plea of second-degree manslaughter “a just resolution.” For the Hennepin County Attorney, who has played such an integral role in incarcerating McDonald, to state that the situation is “just,” is an insult to McDonald’s suffering.
The racism and transphobia that McDonald is experiencing is by no means unique. Trans women are up to 15 times more likely to be incarcerated than the general population. Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 47% of black trans people surveyed had been incarcerated. 38% of black trans people had been harassed or assaulted by the police because of bias. A video (warning: contains graphic discussions of physical and sexual assault and transphobic slurs) from the Transgender and Intersex Project, which interviewed trans women, who have been victims of the prison-industrial complex, included telling statements about the horrors of the system. One woman stated, “prison is the worst thing anyone can go through.” Another said, “I wouldn’t be able to get my hormones and medications that I need.”
In November of last year, while awaiting trial, CeCe wrote:
I am truly sorry for the loss of a person who also was involved in the incident, but how would my mom and family feel if she heard that I was killed by a group of racist, homophobic/transphobic people only for walking to the store and being at the wrong place at the wrong time, which luckily I wasn’t by myself. Or even looking at it in different aspects, would the situation have been the same? Would they have taken the same lengths to prosecute him if he had killed me? Or would they have even cared if it were a black on black crime?
Given the magnitude of the violence perpetrated against transgender women of color, CeCe’s question demands a thoughtful answer. Had CeCe been alone, it’s entirely possible that she might not have survived this encounter; as it is, she has pled guilty to a crime in spite of her assertions that she was acting in self-defense, and will serve time simply because she managed to survive a violent attack. (No one else has been arrested or charged in the incident.)
Transgender women of color are at the highest risk of hate-based violence of any group, unsurprising for a group of people surviving under three oppressive yokes — racism, sexism, and transphobia — all at the same time. According to a 2011 report, 70 percent of LGBT murder victims were people of color. 44 percent were specifically women of color.
reports on the case of CeCe McDonald, an African American transgender woman who fought against her attacker—and was charged with murder.
May 7, 2012
IMAGINE BEING outnumbered and brutally attacked. Now imagine facing most of the rest of your adult life in prison for the crime of protecting your life.
This is the living nightmare endured by CeCe McDonald, an African American transgender women who was charged with second-degree felony murder for defending herself against a hate crime.
After international pressure, an ongoing campaign of public protests and more than 15,000 petition signatures, on May 2, McDonald and her attorney were able to negotiate a plea agreement and get the charges against her reduced to second-degree manslaughter. McDonald is set to be sentenced to 42 months in prison on June 4, and her sentence will be reduced to one-third of that for good behavior.
McDonald’s case demonstrates the power and necessity of struggle in achieving justice for oppressed people, and the obscene racism and transphobia at the core of America’s criminal injustice system.
On June 5, 2011, McDonald and five of her friends—all queer or allied and African American—were going to a grocery store in the Minneapolis area. As they passed a local bar, a group of straight, white, cysgender people began hurling racist, homophobic and transphobic slurs, calling them “faggots,” “niggers” and “chicks with dicks.”
McDonald did what any victim of oppression should have the right to do—she stood her ground. McDonald approached her harassers and made it clear that violent hate speech was offensive, inappropriate and unacceptable.
One women lunged toward McDonald and smashed her glass mug into McDonald’s face, puncturing her cheek all the way through and lacerating her salivary gland. The rest of the group joined in and began assaulting McDonald. At this point, her friends came to her defense and a fight ensued. In defending her life, McDonald stabbed one of the male attackers, Dean Schmitz. He later died in the hospital.
Schmitz was an open racist with a swastika tattoo on his chest, and he had a criminal record of abuse and violence toward his ex-girlfriend. But instead of dropping the case, the district attorney’s office arrested, charged and prosecuted McDonald for second-degree murder.
In the run-up to the trial, she spent most of her time—nearly a year—in prison, and much of that time in solitary confinement for allegedly violating conditions of bail by smoking pot.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
CECE’S CASE has been largely unreported by the mainstream national media, reinforcing the overall invisibility of trans people. Rather then treating hate-motivated violence toward trans people and people of color as a system-wide problem, it’s treated as individual acts of bad behavior, if acknowledged at all.
Violence, harassment and bullying are permanent features of transgender life, whether at the hands of police or bigots, and this is disproportionately the case for trans women of color. According to a 2010 study, trans women made up the victims of nearly 40 percent of hate crimes in the U.S.
As McDonald’s close friend Rai’vyn Cross explained on Democracy Now!: “We have encountered this every day of our lives…We experience this on a daily basis when we wake up, when we go to sleep, if it’s in a public place or if it’s just outside, period.”
Violence and harassment are only one component of the multifaceted oppression experienced by trans people, and in particular trans people of color. In a society that enforces a rigid gender binary with little space for fluidity, where trans people and their lived experiences are rendered nearly invisible, and where there is zero federal protection for gender identity of expression in employment, housing, education, health care or public accommodations, it’s no surprise that discrimination is a regular feature of trans life.
Compared to averages for the entire U.S. population, transgender people are 10 to 15 times more likely to be incarcerated, two to four times more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted while in prison or jail, and four times more likely to live in extreme poverty, with a household annual income of under $10,000.
Forty-seven percent of trans people have reported not getting a job due to their gender identity/presentation, 97 percent have experienced harassment at work or in school. Trans people are 25 times more likely to commit suicide and 16 times more likely to be murdered.
Nineteen percent of all trans people have reported being homeless, and over 40 percent of Black trans people have experienced homelessness. More than 50 percent of Black trans folks have reported being pushed into sex work or selling drugs in order to make an income at point in their life. Some 38 percent of African American trans folks report experiencing police harassment, 15 percent report being physically assaulted by police, and 7 percent report being sexually assaulted by police.
These statistics demonstrate that there can be no trans/queer justice without racial justice and vise versa. The oppressive realities of race, gender and sexual identity, and class are intersecting—the fight against them must be as well.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THE CRIMINAL injustice system’s handling of McDonald’s case demonstrates its inability to protect LGBTQ people and communities of color from violence and how it targets oppressed people when we fight back.
Contrast the experience of George Zimmerman with that of CeCe McDonald and the system’s priorities become disturbingly clear. Murder an unarmed Black teenager, and don’t worry about getting charged. Defend yourself against a racist transphobic hate crime that threatens your life, and expect to potentially spend the rest of your life in prison.
They want us to believe that CeCe McDonald is the exception, that Travyon Martin is the exception, that Oscar Grant is the exception—but they aren’t. The only exception is that we know about them.
A reduced plea agreement is a victory for CeCe McDonald, but it doesn’t go far enough. No oppressed person should spend even a day in jail for defending their life against hateful violence. McDonald should be freed and all charges dropped. The violence, racism and anti-queer bias of America’s criminal injustice system is what must be put on trial.
Justice for queer people and people of color must be fought for in the streets, through protests, speak-outs, sit-ins, petitions and all other forms of collective resistance. CeCe McDonald put it best herself:
“In the memories of those who we have lost, it is our duty to put an effort to make a change. We should not have to sit back in the fear of our own lives and well-being, or the lives and well being of those we love and care for due to the hate that exist and threatens our safety.
“We should not have to mourn for the lives of the people we love and have lost due to hate and careless acts. We have to stand up against those who put us down and try to oppress us.”
You’re damn right, CeCe. Never give up, and neither will we!
23-year-old Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, was the victim of a racist and transphobic assault. Now she’s going to prison.
What also makes “it” so tragic is that by last June, McDonald already had an abundance of transphobic violence under her belt. On the site that activists from the Minneapolis-based Trans Youth Support Network created for her, she recalls beatings, racial discrimination and blame:
“I grew up in a community that was predominately African-American people. And with the fact of me just being a minority in this society was bad, being African American and trans is an ultimate challenge. I can remember having loaded guns being put to my head and being beat until bloody. Or walking downs the street and being yelled “ a faggot.” I thought because of their ignorance I decided to change my surroundings. So I moved to a suburban community, which were predominately white people. Then, I remember people grabbing their purses and children, like I was a thief and was going to steal their money and kids, and to still be yelled “queer” or “faggot”, which made me feel upset and that my efforts of leaving one community to another, went without victory.”
Here’s McDonald on a particularly painful bashing where she felt guilty for not “properly” defending herself:
“I remember being harassed everywhere from school to even the people in my own neighborhood. One incident where I came from my local store and being harassed there, but I spoke up for myself and I guess the men didn’t like that. When I walked out the store I was followed and then jumped by 5 guys, all who were in high school while I was only in the 7th grade. And it seemed that when I tried defending myself, [they] retaliated more. I can remember hearing them yell, “Kill that faggot” as they [stomped] and [punched] me. I begged them to stop, but they continued. After they took my money, they ran off leaving me there. No one was there to help me, and I was scared to even move, even though I was only a couple feet from my house. When I walked in the house, my mom asked why it took so long, and then she turned around and noticed that I was bloody and distraught. It hurt me for my mom to have to see me like that. Her reaction was grabbing her shoes and the closest thing she could use for a weapon, and asked who they were and where they lived. I told her to forget about it, and she was furious that I could just let that happen to me and not retaliate. My biggest fear was my mom or siblings getting hurt in the process of defending me, or even being associated with me. I went to the bathroom and cleaned myself up. And as I washed my face blood continued to run, which is when I noticed that during the jumping my lip went through my tooth which caused me to have a scar over my top lip, and it’s still there.”
Stories like McDonald’s aren’t at all unusual. Research shows that Black transgender people weather a disproportionate amount of discrimination, brutality, police harassment, sexual assault and incarceration. Instances abound of transgender women of color being murdered because of their assailants’ individual bias or systemic bias that makes them so much more vulnerable to homelessness and participation in an underground economy. The crimes often go unpunished, unrecognized, misreported and unnoticed outside of their immediate communities.
In the aftermath of McDonald’s case, some activists are calling for systemic change. I agree with them, of course. But I also want to use this space to say, point blank, Crishaun “CeCe” McDonald should not be in prison for defending herself against a racist transphobe who decided to pick a fight with her and her friends. If she weren’t a Black transgender woman, she wouldn’t be expected to stand for that kind of abuse.
Actually, she would be considered a survivor.
Akiba Solomon is an NABJ-Award winning writer, freelance journalist, editor and essayist from West Philadelphia. She writes about the intersection between gender and race for Colorlines and is the co-editor of Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts .
Folks are asking: What’s next? How can we help CeCe?
Below are some solid ways to help CeCe as she awaits sentencing and while she serves her time in prison. Please spread the word, post and re-post. Don’t let the world forget about her, don’t let her be just another news story you read about once. She’s a human being who needs her community, she needs to know she’s still loved.
*Write letters to CeCe in jail to show her yr love.
*Send CeCe books & magazines, info here: http://supportcece.wordpress.com/get-involved/send-cece-books/
*Write letters to the editor asking them to write responsible articles about CeCe’s case. We NEED to keep her story in the news.
*Write yr own articles and blog post, post, re-post, forward, spread her story far and wide.
*Organize a fundraiser for CeCe. It cost a lot to survive in prison. She needs money for commissary, phone calls, writing materials and to fund trips for her family and supporters to visit her.
*Donate directly to her. This is a link to the only official CeCe McDonald donation site. (Or you can go to her website & there’s a link there. www.supportcece.wordpress.com)
The fight to free CeCe McDonald and the work to support her continues!