In her first media appearance since her release from prison, CeCe McDonald spoke with MSNBC’s Melissa Harris Perry about the issues faced by the transgender community, her incarceration, and her work as an advocate for trans women of color.
Joined by Katie Burgess of the Trans Youth Support Network, Rea Carey of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Laverne Cox of the hit show “Orange is the New Black,” the panel discussion brought to light the oppression and discrimination faced by trans people.
Perry started off the discussion by sharing a statement from Minnesota State Representative Keith Ellison, who had been on her show the day before.
“It appears that CeCe McDonald defended herself after a bias motivated attack…CeCe’s case reveals the disturbing intolerance of transgender citizens and I hope through her struggle the plight of trans people has come to greater awareness.”
McDonald, who is from Minnesota and was recently released from a men’s correctional facility after serving the majority of a forty-one month sentence, was glad to hear that awareness of the plight trans women face is spreading.
“That’s very exciting and good to hear,” McDonald said on the show, which aired on Sunday, January 19. “A lot of times people don’t even acknowledge or understand trans women, especially African-American trans women, because we are always faced with such hardships and it seems like sometimes we’re just taken as props or people just see us as gimmicks.”
Among the hardships faced by her community is a higher rate of incarceration, systemic discrimination, and being ostracized from groups who supposedly work to protect rights for persons like herself, such as the LGBT community, women’s groups, and the civil rights movement.
“So many trans women of color feel that we are not loved, that we are not wanted by the LGBT community, by communities of color, by women’s organizations and women’s community. So we need a lot of love,” said Laverne Cox, on the topic of discrimination faced by trans women of color.
Tying that need for love with the need for advocacy and activism, Cox said:
“Justice Cornell West reminds us that justice is what love looks like out in public.”
The statistics shared on the show are staggering; among black transgender people, 47% have been incarcerated, with Native American transgender people following with a rate of 30% incarcerated, and 21% of all trans women.
“To be honest, regardless of whether it’s a man’s prison or a woman’s prison, prisons aren’t safe at all,” said McDonald, when asked about the environment trans women face in prison.
“Prisons aren’t safe for anyone…I felt like they wanted me to hate myself as a trans woman, they wanted to force me to be somebody I wasn’t. They wanted to force me to delegitimize myself as a trans woman, and I was not taking that.”
The entire interview can be viewed online here.