Cece McDonald stood up to bigots and survived a hate crime. Now she’s in the county jail waiting to be tried for second degree murder. This is a story about intersectionality – what happens when a young trans woman of color goes up against white supremacy, misogyny and transphobia. It’s a story about what happens when you have to fight for your life.
It began last June, the night of the 5th, when Cece and her friends – all young, black and queer – decided that they wanted to walk to the grocery store. The grocery store in question is in south Minneapolis just off Lake Street, the busy, polluted, vital artery running from the wealthy white neighborhoods by the lakes through blocks of working class, multiracial, immigrant businesses before it ends in upmarket gentrification at the river. To get to the store, the group had to walk past a dive bar called the Schooner. Dean Schmitz and his friends were standing outside the Schooner’s side door. All were older – Dean was 47 – and all were white. When they saw CeCe and her friends walk by, they started yelling – “faggots” “chicks with dicks” “n*****s” – a litany of vile abuse targeted at a group of much younger strangers. CeCe McDonald has a strong sense of justice – she decided to confront Dean and his friends. So she and her group walked toward the bar.
Before we go any further, let’s talk about CeCe. She’s 23, a college student in fashion design, a trans woman, Black, femme, very funny and widely known to be a generous person – a woman who housed and took care of her chosen family of younger queer and trans folks. Her friends call her Honee Bea. CeCe is someone who fights for social change who even from jail has been urging her supporters to help other victims of white supremacy – including the family of Jaime Gonzalez, who was killed by the Texas police while he was at school. She is someone who has faith in herself, in her community, in her values. “Love is inevitable and overcomes any and all things,” she writes. CeCe and her friends are brave and tough, strong enough to walk around being visible in a world that attacks and criminalizes you if you’re young and African-American, and doubles the assault if you’re young and African-American and trans and femme.
You probably know – if you’re trans you definitely know – that trans women of color face incredible, staggering rates of violence and homicide. In most places it is essentially legal to discriminate against trans people in housing, employment and social services. As a result, trans people, especially trans women, are socially vulnerable in all kinds of ways – and vulnerable turns into “criminalized”, whether it’s because you can’t change your legal documents to match your gender or because you’re homeless and panhandling or because you’re doing sex work to make the rent…or because you have to fight to keep yourself safe. Trans people are ten to fifteen times more likely to have been incarcerated than cis people. Nearly half of all African-American trans people have spent time in the prison system. Seventy percent of the GLBTQ people murdered in 2010 were people of color. Forty-four percent were trans women. If you’re vulnerable, you have to wonder – will someone assault you? Will you survive? Will anyone help you? That’s a pretty heavy thing to carry around in the back of your mind every day.