A trans woman is charged with fatally stabbing a man outside a Minneapolis bar early this month. But she says she and her friends were acting in self-defense after the man rushed them and called them derogatory names.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a man named Dean Schmitz accosted Chrishaun McDonald, who is transgender, outside the Schooner Tavern. Schmitz allegedly asked McDonald, 'Did you think you were going to rape somebody in those girl clothes?' McDonald says Schmitz also made other offensive comments, including calling her and her friends the n-word. She also alleges that one of Schmitz's friends hit one of her friends with a glass. What happened next is murky — McDonald initially said that Schmitz ran into a pair of scissors she was holding. She now says he was actually stabbed by one of her friends who was trying to protect her. Whatever the case, he's now dead, and McDonald is charged with second-degree murder.
It seems likely that Schmitz did indeed harass McDonald — of his alleged racist and transphobic comments, his brother says, "At times he can be like that, yes." And Katie Burgess, executive director of the Trans Youth Support Network and a friend of McDonald's, said in a statement,
Chrishaun McDonald's case is a tragedy, but unfortunately it's not a rarity. Transgender women of color face disproportionate levels of violence and harassment, and are pulled into prisons and jails at extremely high rates. Over 30% of trans women of color are incarcerated every year. Once in prison or jail, 38% are harassed, 15% are physically assaulted, and 7% are sexually assaulted. These violent abuses are enacted upon them by guards and fellow prisoners. Although none of us knows all the details about what happened on June 5th, we do know that the deck is stacked against Ms. McDonald, and we ask concerned community members to support her in her trial.
In a cover story on trans issues, Eliza Gray of The New Republic wrote,
Transgender people are some of the least protected, most persecuted people in the United States. In a recent study of transgender students, nearly half said they'd been "punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon" at least once in the last year. On average, a transgender person is murdered because of their identity every month
In this case, McDonald is the one accused of murder. But was she — or possibly one of her friends — acting in self-defense? Does the harassment she allegedly faced make her less at fault? At what point do transphobic slurs become threatening enough to warrant deadly force? Clearly killing someone isn't a good response to prejudice, but for people who are at constant risk, defending oneself may become more reflex than decision. McDonald is scheduled to appear in court today, until which time she's in solitary confinement. Discrimination against her apparently continues — she's housed in a male facility, where she says staff are denying her medical treatment. And Burgess notes that media outlets have been consistently referring to McDonald as "he."
Witness: Slain Mpls. Bar Patron's Gay-Bashing Remark Ignited Melee [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]
Transgender Advocates Defend Accused Killer Of Bar Patron [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]
Chrishaun McDonald Says Transgender Status Means Unfair Murder Trial Ahead [CityPages]
Chrishaun McDonald, Dean Schmitz's Accused Killer, Allegedly Reacted To Transgender Slur [CityPages]
Transitions [The New Republic]