It’s rare that trans women are given the mic to speak about our experiences on our own terms, and it’s an even rarer occurrence when we women of color get to share space with one another and truth tell in a public space.
I’m proud of the nearly 10 minutes I shared with Isis King, who came into the media’s focus when she was recruited to compete on Cycle 11 of America’s Next Top Model in 2008. I’m proud to call Isis my dear sister and to be able to speak with her about our public lives.
I’d like to use this space to clarify three things:
1. Isis mentioned Laverne Cox as one of the only examples she’s known of trans women like herself on television. I’d like to highlight the fact that other sisters are and have also represented on television: Carmen Carrera, Candis Cayne, Jamie Clayton, Nina Poon, Harmony Santana and Nong Ariyaphon Southiphong.
2. I made a statement about our responsibility to educate others about our experiences. I said, “You have to use your life as a teaching moment.” It’s a personal choice to do so, and it’s a responsibility that I take on, but it is NOT our job to educate people about us. I was reminded of this when I read Janani Balasubramanian’s essay “Brown Silence,” where she so eloquently writes: “Not everyone’s education needs to be our responsibility all the time…Our words and energy should also be conserved.”
3. I also said the dehumanization of trans women in the media “leads to trans women hurting themselves in a way that they feel they don’t deserve more.” Instead, I’d like to add that the systematic dehumanization of trans women through words, images and the lack thereof of words and images that represent the totality of our experiences actually is what contributes to others seeing us as less than human therefore justifying the violence, battery, criminalization and murders we face.
Finally, I hope conversations like these continue to happen, and that they happen with a wide array of women, because it’s only in hearing a plethora of our voices do we paint a more realistic portrait of womanhood.
Lourdes Hunter delivers a powerful speech at SlutWalk 2011 that is giving me life months later:
“Yes, I am a transgender woman. But that doesn’t give you the right to solicit me for sex or assume I am a hooker. And let me tell you something: Don’t call me tranny. Don’t call me shemale. Don’t fucking call me a he-she.”
“Yes, honey, I am college-educated, professionally employed and I pay my own damn bills. I define my own existence, and that is my choice.”
“It’s time for all of us to take responsibility…We must equip ourselves and our young women with the tools of survival, like self-esteem, like love and like support.”
I took the stage at the GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco on Saturday to educate the LGBT and our allied communities of the injustices that trans women - especially those of color - face. Here, I call for the New York Times to restore Lorena Escalera’s dignity after the publishing of their demeaning article.
In a time, where a case like CeCe McDonald’s warrants barely any mainstream mention, it’s essential that we push back when the media gets us and our stories wrong. We will not take crumbs. We deserve to be seen whole.
Last month, I wrote to many of you because you had contacted our office about our handling of the Chrishaun McDonald case. I want to update you now on significant actions around that case.
Recently, the Washington County Attorney’s Office charged Molly Shannon Flaherty with one count of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon and one count of third-degree assault-substantial bodily harm for attacking Ms. McDonald on June 5, 2011 outside the Schooner bar.
As I mentioned several times during the months leading up to Ms. McDonald’s trial, we immediately sent the case to Washington County because it would have been a conflict of interest if we had charged the case against Ms. Flaherty at the same time we had charged the homicide case against Ms. McDonald. Washington County Attorney Peter Orput stated after the charges were filed May 11 that he would have filed the charges last summer, but he needed to talk to Ms. McDonald and get her medical records. Ms. McDonald’s lawyers were afraid that information could be used against her in the murder case and advised her not to cooperate with Mr. Orput, a position both we and Mr. Orput understand and respect. It is my understanding that Ms. McDonald’s attorneys no longer have this concern and Ms. McDonald is helping put together a strong case against Ms. Flaherty.
As you probably know, we entered into a plea agreement with Ms. McDonald that dropped the charge from second-degree murder to second-degree manslaughter in the stabbing death of an unarmed victim. Instead of facing a possible sentence of 27 years in prison if convicted, Ms. McDonald will be sentenced to 41 months, and with time served and good behavior, she should be released in just over two years. We agreed to this negotiated resolution because we thought it served justice for the family of the stabbing victim, but also was appropriate for Ms. McDonald.
I want to reiterate, our role as prosecutors is to examine the facts provided by police investigators and determine if there is sufficient admissible evidence to bring a charge. It is our mission to serve justice and public safety. Gender, race, sexual orientation and class are not part of the decision-making process. That is how we handled Ms. McDonald’s case from beginning to end. That is how we try to serve in every case we review. We cannot, and do not, let popular opinion determine how we handle cases.
However, it is important that we fully serve all members of our community and, therefore, we do listen to the comments and concerns about the justice system. We understand that some in the LGBTQ community may continue to disagree with the way we handled the McDonald case and that is their right. However, I renew my pledge to continue to work with all our residents to make this office receptive to your concerns. We know Hennepin County has a large LGBTQ community and it is our duty to make sure your voice is heard so that safety and justice is achieved for all.
I returned to MSNBC today to discuss ENDA and the progress of pushing forward equality beyond just marriage for LGBT people. Thomas Roberts as always was a pleasure, and I got the chance to meet Melissa Harris-Perry in the makeup room!