Today, CeCe McDonald, an African American transgender woman serving a 41-month sentence in the self-defense death of her assailant, was released early from St. Cloud Minnesota Correctional Facility. McDonald, a student in Minneapolis, and her friends survived a violent transphobic and racist attack on June 5th, 2011. While the perpetrators initiated the confrontation, CeCe McDonald was the only person to be arrested and charged, and in spite of the fact that her actions were defensive.
National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling welcomes CeCe McDonald’s early release, “No transgender person should be punished for surviving a hate crime. NCTE welcomes and celebrates CeCe’s early release from prison. We’re also mindful that CeCe’s release is not freedom; her ability to control her life is now severely limited because a couple of intoxicated strangers believed that CeCe and her friends didn’t belong in the neighborhood. CeCe’s story is a window into understanding how our country treats transgender people of color and young people.
CeCe McDonald’s arrest and imprisonment underscores the need to reform the criminal justice system. Because of a number of contributing factors including police profiling, poverty, and anti-transgender violence, transgender people, and particularly transgender people of color, experience disproportionate rates of imprisonment. According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 16% of transgender adults have been in a prison or a jail for any reason, compared to only 2.7% of all adults who have been in prison.
Pervasive mistreatment, harassment, and sexual assault in jails and prisons is of particular concern for transgender inmates. A federal survey found that prisoners who identified as “non-heterosexual” were 3 times as likely to report sexual abuse. A study of California prisons found that transgender women in men’s prisons were 13 times as likely to be sexually abused as other prisoners, resulting in trauma, depression, substance abuse, HIV, and other infections that last far longer than a person’s prison sentence.
“It’s often hard to find optimism in circumstances like CeCe’s, but we are uplifted by Cece’s positivity and inspired by the way local organizers like those at the Transgender Youth Support Network (TYSN) have rallied the Minneapolis queer and allied community behind CeCe,” said Keisling. “CeCe and TYSN remind us of how unshakeable courage can educate Americans about who transgender people are.”
“But just as we celebrate CeCe’s return home, we’re also reminded that attacks against transgender people continue. Just last week, Jewlyes Gutierrez, a transgender student in Hercules, CA, was charged with battery for defending herself against violent school bullies. Here are two transgender women, women of color, and young people who, just for being who they are, were mercilessly attacked.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality will continue to advocate for local and state policies that improve the treatment of transgender people in jails and prisons, advocate against police and prosecutorial bias against transgender people, while also calling attention to the desperate need for alternatives to incarceration.