CeCe McDonald is a transgender prison-reform activist from Minneapolis Minnesota whose life as a fashion student was interrupted after she suffered a racist and transphobic attack in 2011. McDonald and two friends were walking past a Minneapolis bar when they encountered a drunken group outside. The group began taunting them with racial, homophobic and transphobic slurs. McDonald stood up against the hate speech and was assaulted with a shattered drinking glass across the face. The attack perforated her cheek lacerating her salivary gland. McDonald was able to defend herself against a second assailant with fabric shears, resulting in the death of the assailant. After the incident, CeCe was the only person arrested and imprisoned after using deadly force to protect herself from the group of people who attacked her. After two months in prison, she finally received care for her wounds. In 2012 McDonald accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to 41 months in prison for manslaughter.
McDonald began to speak out against the prison industrial complex as she had first hand experience with the inhumane treatment of prisoners. “Prisons aren’t safe for anyone, and that’s the key issue,” she said. For McDonald, the issue of safety included her status as a transgender woman in a men’s prison. Prisoners are assigned to prisons based on their sex at birth rather than their gender identity. The experience served to strengthen McDonald’s character and establish her resolve to become a transgender leader. Laverne Cox produced a documentary about CeCe’s wrongful imprisonment in a men’s facility (when she identifies as female) entitled, “Free CeCe,” focusing on the issue of violence against trans women of color. CeCe McDonald was released in January 2014 after serving 19 months. She has also been included as part of Advocate’s annual “40 under 40” list (2014). Her case has helped bring attention to the violence and discrimination faced by transgender women of color.