By: Anthony Mottley, Staff Writer
Living life as a transgender woman of color can mean living with the fear of violence or death with every step. Blake Bonkowski, who is the Coordinator for LGBTQ+ and Inclusion Initiatives UM-Dearborn, says the issue is not getting the attention it deserves.
“If you just look at hate crimes against LGBT people, the vast majority of those are against trans women of color. On average, between 20-30 trans women of color are murdered every year.” Bonkowski said.
Bonkowski held a screening and discussion of the documentary film, Free Cece, to promote awareness of the violence and misgendering that transgender people face.
CeCe McDonald is an African American transgender woman that gained national attention in June 2012 for accepting a plea bargain of 41 months for second-degree manslaughter of a man she stabbed after McDonald and her friends were assaulted in Minneapolis outside a bar near closing time.
The film drove the messages home according to UM-D sophomore, Alia Jessop. “They wouldn’t let her admit trans statistics into the court on how often trans people are killed in hate crimes. Even when the crime was first reported they misgendered her in the media.”
According to a report by HRC Foundation and the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC), among the 53 known transgender victims between 2013-2015, 87 percent were people of color. Thirty-nine of the victims were African American.
McDonald’s case got the attention of actress Laverne Cox. Cox executive produced the film and appears on camera several times.
The ordeal turned McDonald into an activist and folk hero. After doing time in a men’s correctional facility, McDonald says the system tried to break her, but a few months in solitary confinement did not weaken her resolve.
McDonald knew that criminal justice system did not view her as a victim. “For so long, humanity has been stripped away from trans people. We are treated as props or mannequins where we don’t have human emotions or reactions. Every day I think about the next day–am I going to be alive? The world tried to make me feel it was my fault that I am trans, that it’s my fault that I was attacked.”
McDonald’s peers view her as a fighter and she sees herself as a difference maker.
“This incident has blossomed me into an intelligent young woman. Everything that happened to me was not just my story, but it the story of so many women like me who don’t have a voice,” said McDonald.
Bonkowski says issues confronting transgender women of color include violence, injustice, suicide and racism in the LGBT community.
“2017 was the highest number on record for trans murders in the United States. The impact of trans women of color has been erased by white, cis-gay men.” McDonald said. “Trans people have been helping out the queer community this whole time. Now it’s time that folks come around and help us. We need cis people to stand up for us. While we are doing that, we need to pay specific attention to trans women of color.”