Op-ed: CeCe McDonald Was Punished for Surviving

Society too often accepts that young, black, transgender women are victims of violence.



Earlier this week, I was in Minneapolis and Chicago supporting community activists seeking justice for two recent victims of anti-trans violence. In Chicago, I attended a rally for Paige Clay, who we lost two weeks ago to a gunshot to her head. In Minneapolis, the community has mobilized to support CeCe McDonald, a target of a racist and transphobic attack, who yesterday accepted a plea deal for defending herself from an attacker. And while I travelled, friends of Brandy Martell in Oakland began organizing in response to her murder this weekend, sitting in her car.
When attacked, both Paige and CeCe were 23-year-old Midwestern girls. Both were black transgender women. Paige was mortally shot; CeCe, a college student, was on trial, being punished for defending herself. Though in different ways, both stories tell the same truth about how society has come to accept, and even expect, the violence transgender people — especially young trans women of color — are often forced to face.
This Spring, there’s been so much hate violence against us: Coko Williams in Detroit, Brandy Martell in Oakland, Deoni Jones in Washington, D.C., and Paige Clay in Chicago—all transgender women of color killed because of who they were.
These are just the victims of murder and just the ones we know about. So much unreported violence occurred as well. Most decent Americans would be shocked and saddened to know how much violence many transgender people live with. We face higher levels of bullying violence, heightened domestic abuse, elevated assault by law enforcement, stunning rates of suicide attempts and off-the-scale levels of hate violence.
To steal a phrase from President Barack Obama, transgender people aren't a special interest group. Fighting for trans rights isn't really about anything other than ending violence. Whether it's the physical violence faced by Paige and CeCe, the violence of poverty, or the spiritual violence of rejection, trans people know violence too well.
We aren’t fighting for special rights. It’s hard to see how Paige or CeCe would have claimed or used “special rights” to protect themselves from these kinds of attacks. Such a suggestion is too painful even to hear. Let me be clear. We want the right to live and thrive. We want the right to protect our youth, who too often are rejected by their own families and learn early that they need to protect themselves and each other, and in CeCe's case, learn they can even face violence for protecting themselves from violence.
That night last summer, CeCe wanted the right to walk safely down a street to a grocery store. Instead, hate attacked her with broken glass to her face. That day a few weeks ago, like every day, Paige wanted the right to be Paige without having hate take aim at her at point blank range. That is what trans rights is about. I believe transgender people are special; the rights we demand, though, not special at all.