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Supporters rally for Chrishaun McDonald, demand “Free CeCe! Drop the charges!”

By Lex Huran

CeCe McDonald

By Luce Guillen-Given, Lex Huran, Kris Gebhard, Billy Navarro Jr., Katie Burgess and Jill Bartel

Minneapolis, MN – A young African American transgender woman was attacked by a group of white men outside of the Schooner Tavern on Lake Street in South Minneapolis, early on the morning of June 5, 2011. Chrishaun (CeCe) McDonald and her friends were on their way to the grocery store when they were attacked by patrons of the bar with transphobic and racist slurs, and one person bashed Ms. McDonald’s face with a glass beer mug. Although Ms. McDonald was the target of a hate crime, she was singled out and charged with second degree murder after one of the attackers was killed.

After her arrest, she was held for two months in solitary confinement for her ‘protection.’ She was denied adequate medical attention for those two months during which the wound on her face, which punctured her cheek, abscessed to the sized of a golf ball. Ms. McDonald and community members rallied for her transfer from solitary and she was moved to an all male psychiatric wing for about a month. Last week she was sent back to solitary confinement again, for unknown reasons.

Since Ms. McDonald’s arrest her family has received harassing phone calls threatening both their well-being and her safety in jail. They have also been approached violently in public settings: They have had bottles thrown at them and several trucks have followed them down the street. They continue to fear for their safety and want Ms. McDonald home.

Community members emphasize that Ms. McDonald’s case takes place in a broader atmosphere of violence against transgender women of color. “The painful reality is that the expectation of violence is constant for many transgender women of color. That violence takes place within families, on the streets, in the workplace, in schools and in jails and prisons,” noted Katie Burgess, Executive Director of the Trans Youth Support Network. In a national survey of trans people, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 38% of African American respondents experienced police harassment, 15% reported being physically assaulted by the police and 7% reported being sexually assaulted by the police.

“Given the discrimination, harassment, abuse and violence that Chrishaun and so many other transgender women of color face every day, we see that the only resolution to this case is to release her back to her family and friends. It is clear that she can never be safe while housed in a prison or jail. Her family wants her back home.” Burgess explained, “We know that Chrishaun cannot receive a fair trial by a jury of her peers – because of transphobia and racism, the deck is stacked against her.”

Community members have rallied for each of Ms. McDonald’s three court appearances, packing her court room and calling for solutions to violence against transgender women of color in Minnesota. “We need to stop the bullying, we need to stop transgender people being assaulted…We need to stand in unity, as GLBT people,” said David Tomlinson of local GLBT organization Sotaboyzz Ent. ZaVawn Zay, Ms. McDonald’s brother, reiterated, “It’s a sad day that in 2011 transgender people still have to look over their shoulder when walking down the street. I would like to see change, I would like to see the people and the community involved and putting their social differences aside and come as one.”

“CeCe has shown amazing resiliency and leadership during the past few months, calling for her own release and an end to this kind of violence and discrimination,” said Burgess. JayJay Cross, McDonald’s sister, called on those gathered to sustain their support: “I want my sister to get out of jail, because she means so much to me. I want to ask people to support her, to love her, to show caring…She just shined in that courtroom. When she told us she loved us it just showed everyone in the courtroom her spirit.”

Leaving the courtroom during her cousin’s last appearance, Cee Cee Howell said, “It’s just a shame that we have to keep going through these trials...we have to sit here being frustrated and sad. Love her and can’t wait for her to get out and I’ll stick with her till the end.”

In a communication to her supporters, Ms. McDonald said, “This kind of love gives me inspiration and keeps me motivated to fight for myself and those who have been in my shoes, and for future generations. I believe this one incident is going to open the eyes of many and show people what…the GLBTQ community has to go through.”

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