Lessons in intersectionality: Gender warrior Leslie Feinberg arrested while protesting CeCe McDonald’s incarceration

“My life has been a constant roller-coaster ride, with all its loops and deep dives. But I refuse to let these rides make me feel that I have to back away from my own pursuit of happiness.”Cece “Honey Bea” McDonald

“CeCe McDonald survived a fascist hate crime; now she’s sentenced as she struggles to survive an ongoing state hate crime…As a white, working-class, Jewish, transgender lesbian revolutionary I will not be silent as this injustice continues!”Leslie Feinberg

In Saturday’s Weekly Feminist Reader, Maya briefly mentioned that author and transgender activist Leslie Feinberg had been arrested “in solidarity with Cece McDonald”. I wanted to follow up because I think this deserves a longer post, and a lot has happened with this case since we last posted about it.

You’ll remember that Cece, known affectionately as “Honey Bea” to her friends and family, is a young trans woman of color who pled guilty to manslaughter after being verbally and physically attacked outside of a bar in Minneapolis. As Akiba Solomon rightly put it, CeCe was essentially arrested for surviving a racist and transphobic attack. Here’s a description of what happened, pulled from her supporters’ website (*Trigger warning*):

“A group of older, white people who were standing outside the bar’s side door began hurling racist and transphobic slurs at them, without provocation.  They called CeCe and her friends ‘faggots,’ ‘niggers,’ and ‘chicks with dicks,’ and suggested that CeCe was ‘dressed as a woman’ in order to ‘rape’ Dean Schmitz, one of the attackers. When CeCe approached the group and told them that her crew would not tolerate hate speech, one of the women said, “I’ll take you bitches on,” and then smashed her glass into CeCe’s face. She punctured CeCe’s cheek all the way through, lacerating her salivary gland. A fight ensued, during which one of the attackers, Dean Schmitz, was fatally stabbed. The only person arrested that night was CeCe.  She is now being falsely accused of murder.”

CeCe was arrested, interrogated without a lawyer present, held in solitary confinement, and charged with murder. She and her supporters continue to claim that she acted in self-defense, but accepted the plea bargain to ensure minimal sentencing and jail time.

As if this weren’t enough, following the sentencing came the revelation that CeCe would be housed in a male prison during her time behind bars.

With good reason, the case has gained national attention as exemplifying all of the things that are wrong with our justice system, gender politics, and prison industrial complex. Hundreds and thousands of people have heard about CeCe’s case and been infuriated and moved to action.

Which is where Leslie Feinberg comes in. Feinberg was arrested while protesting outside the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility where Cece McDonald was being held. She is facing charges of property damage.

I draw your attention to this not because it is rare to see activists arrested for something they believe in. This happens daily, to protesters and activists rich and poor, trans and cis, famous and unknown, black and white and of so many other different identities. This is much bigger than a somewhat established activist speaking out on behalf of an unknown citizen, or a white person speaking out on behalf of a person of color (all cliched scenarios to various degrees, though not always so cliche when they are boiled down to an interpersonal level). This arrest is significant and meaningful to me because it marks an important moment of intersectional activism around an issue that we can’t afford to be short-sighted and myopic about any longer. And all parties involved are aware of this, having mentioned at various points the interplay of race and gender, of racism and transphobia and homophobia that led to these unjust realities. In a statement on her reasons for protesting CeCe’s imprisonment, Feinberg makes connections between racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and sexism, and cites the intersectionality of these issues as part of the reason to fight them all together as they manifest in this case:

CeCe McDonald is being sent to prison in June—the month when the Stonewall Rebellion ignited in the streets of Greenwich Village in 1969. From the Compton’s Uprising to the Stonewall Rebellion, defense against oppression is a law of survival.

 This is Pride month, and will be bringing the demand: “Free CeCe—now!” to the regional Pride march where I live. I believe many other individuals, groups, and contingents will thunder that demand in Pride marches and rallies all over the world—informing millions who take part, and millions more who support.

 The prosecution hopes this struggle is over. But it is not over: Free CeCe—now! An injury to one is an injury to all! Come out against racist, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and sexist wars at home and abroad!

Mercedes Allen over at the Bilerico Project points to this as a moment for finally acknowledging intersectional discrimination, and taking concrete actions to end it.

“McDonald’s incarceration is another in a long line of injustices that trans and LGBT communities are often apathetic about addressing, usually because of the belief that a person convicted of crime deserves the punishment somehow. The way in which McDonald has been railroaded over what fairly clearly appears to be an act of self-defense, however, has revealed the institutional bias that disproportionately places trans women and men in such institutions, and uniquely dehumanizes them once there.

Feinberg’s arrest will likely draw some badly needed attention to this issue. And hopefully, solidarity.

Will this be the moment in which we finally rise up against the long-standing legacies of cruel and unusual punishment, institutional bias, and the exponentially severe nature of intersectional discrimination?” [Emphasis mine.]

I sure hope so.

For another good take on this case, check out this video from Feministing favorite Melissa Harris-Perry featuring Mara Keisling, founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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