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Young African-American transwoman

CeCe McDonald & the right to self-defense

Published Jun 21, 2012 9:48 PM

Activists in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer liberation movement and allies all around the United States are spreading the word about the injustice facing CeCe McDonald in Minnesota. In cities large and small — including Syracuse, N.Y.; Santa Rosa, Calif.; Baltimore; Portland, Ore.; Detroit; Olympia, Wash.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Boston, among many others — demands for McDonald’s freedom have been raised at Pride marches and events. From signs and banners, T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Free CeCe,” to floats, graffiti and other creative expressions, McDonald’s case is generating publicity and solidarity, not just in the U.S. but in other countries as well.

McDonald, now 24, is an African-American transgender woman from Minneapolis. Originally from Chicago, she came out as a trans person at the age of 14. She became active in the community in Minneapolis, often participating in panels on fighting racism and transgender oppression, and was known for giving guidance and support to LGBTQ youth. Talented in fashion design, McDonald had been pursuing her associate’s degree in fashion at a local college and supporting herself through part-time work in a café.

A little over a year ago, on June 5, 2011, McDonald’s life was forever changed after she defended herself and her friends from a brutal attack by two women and a man, all of whom were white and much older than she and her friends, as McDonald and her friends were on their way to a neighborhood store. The trio was standing outside a bar and began hurling racist, anti-trans epithets and threats at the youth, all of whom were African Americans and queer or allied. One of the women smashed a bar mug into McDonald’s face, piercing her cheek and salivary gland. A fight ensued and the white male, replete with a swastika tattoo, lay dead from a stab wound.

McDonald, the victim and survivor, was the only one arrested and jailed after this vicious attack by racist bigots. She was charged with second-degree murder and faced decades in prison if convicted. Instead, she agreed to the prosecution’s offer of pleading guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced on June 4 to a prison term of 41 months.

A loud and militant protest took place outside the Hennepin County Jail in Minneapolis the night of McDonald’s sentencing. Leslie Feinberg, the award-winning author of “Stone Butch Blues” and “Transgender Warriors,” was arrested and held without bond for three nights before a flood of calls and emails to the county attorney resulted in hir release and felony charges dropped. Feinberg has urged support and solidarity for McDonald at Pride events around the U.S.

Fighting back against oppression

The February 2011 report, “Injustice at Every Turn: The National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” depicts in harsh statistics the injustices, discrimination, bigotry, violence and other forms of oppression visited upon transgender individuals. African-American trans people face the worst of it, according to the National Black Justice Coalition, which partnered with the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to look at how racism and anti-trans bigotry combine into “particularly devastating levels” of discrimination and bias. (thetaskforce.org)

The report showed African-American trans people live in extreme poverty, with 34 percent reporting an annual household income of less than $10,000; 49 percent of respondents had attempted suicide; 49 percent of Black trans people attending school reported harassment; 27 percent faced physical assault; and 15 percent were sexually assaulted at school.

Black transgender people had an extremely high unemployment rate at 26 percent, two times the rate of the overall transgender sample and four times the general population’s rate. At work, 46 percent of African-American transgender people were harassed, 15 percent physically attacked and 13 percent sexually assaulted on the job, while 32 percent of Black transgender people lost their employment due to bias and 48 percent were not hired for a job due to bias.

Of Black transgender people who had interacted with police, 38 percent reported harassment, 14 percent reported physical assault, and 6 percent reported sexual assault by cops. Thirty-five percent had been arrested or held in a cell due to bias at some point in their lives. Twenty-nine percent of African-American respondents who had been to jail or prison reported being physically assaulted and 32 percent reported being sexually assaulted while in custody.

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-LGBT murders in 2010 were of people of color. Forty-four percent of these victims were transgender women.

On April 3, Coko Williams was found shot and killed — with her throat also slashed — in Detroit. On April 16, Paige Clay was found dead in Chicago’s West Garfield Park from a single gunshot to her forehead. Brandy Martell was shot and killed on April 29 in Oakland, Calif. All three of these victims were trans women of color.

CeCe McDonald dared to stand up to her attackers, to defend herself and fight back against racist bigots, which is every oppressed person’s right. Now she is being criminalized and punished by a racist, sexist, anti-trans, anti-poor “justice” system. She deserves all our support and solidarity. Go to supportcece.wordpress.com for how you can help organize to free CeCe McDonald.