Fighting For Her Life: Transgender Woman Charged With Murder

One night in front of a Minneapolis bar has changed CeCe McDonald's life forever.

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

April 20 2012 7:00 AM ET

In light of the Trayvon Martin killing — an incident in which a black youth armed with only a cell phone and pack of Skittles was killed by a white neighborhood patrol member — there’s been a whirlwind of media coverage debating the issues of race and justice and occasionally how LGBT folks should or do fit into the mix.

Nowhere are those issues more apparent than in the case of CeCe McDonald, a 23-year-old African-American transgender woman who goes on trial in Minneapolis April 30 for second-degree murder. It’s a case that has galvanized Minnesota’s LGBT community as well as transgender and African-American individuals nationwide. To many it’s served as a stark reminder that that black and transgender people experience imprisonment at a rate significantly disproportionate to that of the general U.S. population. And according to recent studies by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, trans people are at greater risk of discrimination, mistreatment, harassment, and assault throughout their experiences with the criminal justice system.

McDonald (named Chrishaun by her parents, nicknamed CeCe by her friends) was charged with second-degree murder after a June 5, 2011, incident in Minneapolis, on an evening that began like many in the city. At the time, McDonald was a vibrant and creative young woman known by her friends as energetic and optimistic. She was studying fashion at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, a program that’s the only one of its kind in the upper Midwest and has led many bright young students to Minneapolis’s rather vibrant fashion and theater scenes for work.

She lived with and helped support four other African-American youth, her chosen family of queer and trans kids she was trying to mentor and assist. Each person described her as a leader, a role model, and a loyal friend, and notably, a woman who had, say many supporters, a history of handling prejudice with amazing grace. Her friends called her Honee Bea.

On June 5, 2011, McDonald and four black friends, all of them trans or queer, headed out to Cub Foods, a popular grocery store in south Minneapolis, just after midnight. The grocery store is in one of those business strips where working-class and immigrant entrepreneurs struggle for the American dream. It is, writes Redlark, a white lower-middle-class queer activist in the Twin Cities, in a Tumblr post in support of McDonald,  “a busy, polluted, vital artery” between a police station and a light rail station, “in a historically contested neighborhood where communities meet, mix, and sometimes contend: the older white working class who bought in during the ’70s and ’80s meets immigrants from Mexico, Somalia, and Central America who came looking for work or for political refuge; Native people still under the gun of colonization; African-Americans who’ve lived in Minneapolis for generations or arrived from Chicago or New Orleans in the last few years; students, punks, and radicals, mostly, but not exclusively white, gentrifiers or born in the neighborhood.”

Along the route, the group had to pass a dive bar, the Schooner Tavern, one of the first liquor establishments in Minneapolis, which has been going strong since Prohibition ended. It’s the kind of place that has pool tables and karaoke, Viking games on the TV, Jagermeister Tuesdays and free hot dog Fridays, 15 types of beer on tap, and open jams on the weekend.

But as McDonald and her friends walked near the bar, two women and a man, all of them Caucasian, began to verbally harass the group, according to witnesses. McDonald says they called her and her friends the n word as well as “faggots” and “chicks with dicks.” Her roommate Latvia Taylor told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the man, Dean Schmitz, also asked McDonald, “Did you think you were going to rape somebody in those girl clothes?”

 

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