Grief and anger flow over murder of African-American transwoman in Cleveland

WW photo: Susan Schnur

WW photo: Susan Schnur

Despite many gains won through decades of struggle, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities are often victims of hate crimes. When the crime becomes a murder, the victim is most likely a young transgender woman of color. Three African-American transwomen were found murdered, in April alone, in Baltimore; Oak Ridge, Fla.; and most recently in Cleveland.

On March 27, Cemia “CeCe” Dove’s family reported her missing to the Cleveland Police Department. The CPD made little effort to pursue the case, despite the fact that in March two women reported missing — both African-American — were later found murdered after they had been raped.

On April 17, Dove’s body was noticed floating in a pond in the suburb of Olmsted Township. Her body was tied up and the rope tied to a cement block and a steel pipe. She was nude from the waist down and the stab wounds were too numerous to count.

This horrific murder has not attracted the worldwide media attention that was drawn by another Cleveland missing person story — the freeing of three women who were kidnapped and sexually, physically and emotionally tortured for years. Around the country it was mainly LGBTQ publications and bloggers that publicized Dove’s killing. Outside the Cleveland area, the mainstream media has paid scant attention.

What local media coverage there has been of Dove’s murder has sparked outrage. The Plain Dealer ran a story with the headline, “Oddly dressed body found in Olmsted Township pond identified.” Dove was only referred to by her legal name, Carl Acuff, in the article and was identified as male. When describing how Dove was found, she was not granted even the dignity of the wrong pronoun; the article referred to her as “it.” The paper thought it was somehow newsworthy that she was wearing three black bras.

Dove’s Facebook page is still accessible, and the photos of her reveal an inner and outer beauty. The Plain Dealer, however, opted to use her mugshot, taken during one of several encounters with the racist, anti-trans CPD and Regional Transit Authority police. Her run-ins with the law were featured not to expose the bias of the authorities, but to defame Dove. She was ticketed by RTA police and fined $100 over a fare dispute — and for claiming to be female when her ID still described her as male. Later, she was arrested again and sentenced to 100 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for possessing “dangerous drugs” — i.e., female hormones.

This revictimization by the media has been roundly denounced around the country, including by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. A rally on May 1 outside Cleveland City Hall drew 100 people and included speakers from NCAVP’s Ohio affiliate, the Columbus-based Buckeye Regional Anti-Violence Organization; the Cleveland Lesbian and Gay Community Center; and the Beyond Identities Community Center, which Dove was an activist member of. Speakers, who also included City Councilmember Joe Cimperman, called for the murder to be prosecuted as a hate crime.

The transgender flag flew from the City Hall flagpole. The flag’s symbolism, as explained by designer Monica Helms, is that “the stripes at the top and bottom are light blue, the traditional color for baby boys. The stripes next to them are pink, the traditional color for baby girls. The stripe in the middle is white, for those who are intersex, transitioning or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender.” (glbtq.com)

One hundred family members, friends and activists attended a memorial at BICC on May 6. Two days earlier a man with a history of anti-woman violence had been arrested and charged with murder.

The disrespect and insensitivity by the media continues. On May 13, radio disc jockey John Lanigan, in the middle of a bigoted monologue about feminine lingerie designed to fit male bodies, joked about “being in a pond in Olmsted Township.” The Plain Dealer tried to clean up its act, using the proper pronouns in a May 14 piece on the “outsider life of the transgender community.” But by stating that a friend of Dove’s “figures CeCe was on a date that went bad,” the reporter implied that the murder was not a hate crime.

Finding work is nearly impossible for transwomen. Many have no choice but to become sex workers, which is exceptionally dangerous. Dove needed money to pay for gender reassignment surgery. That transpeople can’t find jobs with health care coverage is a hate crime in itself.

After the tragic death of CeCe Dove, we should redouble our efforts for CeCe McDonald. This CeCe, serving time for manslaughter because she defended herself against a racist bigot who attacked her, is in jail precisely because she refused to become a statistic.

We must continue to fight racism, sexism and anti-trans bigotry until the streets are safe for everyone, and no one has to earn a living by walking the streets. n