#FreeDavia: Another Trans Woman Arrested for Self-Defense

On Friday, January 19, Davia Spain, 23-year-old trans activist, was arrested for “suspicion of domestic violence, burglary and battery.” Witnesses and supporters however argue that she was defending herself from her abuser and that Davia was being unfairly targeted because of her gender identity. 

Trans women of color are often criminalized for protecting themselves, and Davia’s story is no exception. The layering of transphobia and racism exacerbates violence against them, both at the hands of individuals and the law enforcement officials charged with protecting them.

Immediately after her arrest, the San Francisco LGBT Center and Davia’s friends launched the #FreeDavia petition asking SFPD to release Davia without charges. Friends and supporters filled the District Attorney’s voicemail and rerouted their strategy to email once additional calls were blocked. Public Defender Jeff Adachi affirmed that Davia did not initiate the attack and was “forced to defend herself.”

Davia is one of many trans women to be treated as the aggressor, not the survivor of violence.

Last year in Florida, a trans woman named Ms. Campbell faced murder charges for stabbing her harasser, who had a three month history of harassing and making unwanted sexual advances towards her. Upset by her rejection, he hit her with a board and she responded in self-defense. The courts then chose to delay Ms. Campbell’s trial for nearly 10 months while she was held in prison, experiencing violent transphobia that led to three different attacks.

Both Ms. Campbell and her lawyer asserted that if she was a cisgender woman, she would not be facing murder charges. The charges were eventually dropped against her thanks to witness accounts, but Ms. Campbell was still forced through a traumatic ordeal, and treated as guilty until proven innocent.

Unfortunately not all such cases against trans women are dropped. CeCe McDonald, prison abolitionist and trans activist, was convicted for manslaughter in 2012. While walking with friends, she was attacked by a group of drunk men shouting racist and transphobic slurs. CeCe defended herself, and was ultimately sentenced to 41 months in a men’s prison for the murder of one of her attackers. She was released early with the support of Laverne Cox and is now a leading voice against the systemic violence trans women face daily.

Because of this systemic transphobia, 21% of trans women have spent time in prison or jail compared to 5% of all adults in the United States. Often trans people are placed in cells not in alignment with their gender identity which makes them targets of violence from fellow prisoners and corrections officers. For example, according to a representative from the Public Defender’s office, Davia was originally placed in a men’s cell until being moved to a cell specifically for trans women.

The lack of media coverage over Davia’s arrest and endangerment in jail is disconcerting and contributes to the habit of erasing of trans people in anti-violence movements. Jess wrote about this habit, reminding us that  “Focusing on sexual violence as a (straight, cisgender) women’s issue exacerbates LGBTQ survivors’ vulnerability to violence and does a disservice to everyone by limiting our understanding of the full relationship between gender, oppression, and sexual violence.”

Let’s be clear, centering trans people is not only featuring trans speakers or stating data points or holding protest signs; it is disrupting the gender binary in our language and in our activism.

Fortunately Davia was released without charges on Monday. But considering that 2017 was the deadliest year for trans folks in the United States, there will be more cases like Davia’s this year. We have a lot of work to do.

Image Header: Davia Spain

Amanda R. Matos, proud Nuyorican from the Bronx, NY, is the co-founder of the WomanHOOD Project, a Bronx-based youth-led organization for young women of color. She is dedicated to empowering communities of color through capacity building, political education, and civic engagement. Amanda has led community organizing and policy initiatives at Planned Parenthood of New York City and Girls for Gender Equity. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as a Sheila C. Johnson Fellow. On her free time, Amanda eats doughnuts and watches great TV shows like Jane the Virgin and Blackish.

Amanda R. Matos is a community organizer and reproductive justice activist from the Bronx, NY.

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