Mara Keisling, the founder and executive director of the National Center Transgender Equality, spoke to PrettyQueer this morning about her experience at day one of the CeCe McDonald trial. Approximately 100 people came out to the Hennepin County Courthouse and, due to limited seating in the courtroom, many were forced to wait in the hallway. The start of McDonald’s trial coincided with the widely publicized trial of Amy Senser, the wife of former Minnesota Vikings tight end, Joe Senser. The hit-and-run case has drawn national media attention, particularly on Monday, when Senser was scheduled to testify for the first time. Keisling indicated that the presence of the national press may have given CeCe’s supporters a false sense that overdue attention was finally being paid to the case, but that the mood in the courthouse remained optimistic and upbeat.
Keisling also commended local organizers for their efforts, particularly in assigning specific tasks to volunteers ranging from greeting and updating people as they arrived to food preparation to procuring clothes for CeCe to wear in court. Until yesterday Ms. McDonald, who’d been a fashion student prior to her arrest, has only been allowed a single outfit. Judge Daniel Moreno decided on Friday to allow her multiple outfits, which, according to Keisling, may be more important than people realize.
“Any defendant in any case wants the jury to judge them by how they really are, not how they’re forced to look in prison,” she said. Since the decision, a local effort to raise money for CeCe’s clothes has been underway. Keisling also commented on the unique nature of CeCe’s case, saying that violence against trans people, particularly trans women of color, has become so common place that it’s hardly surprising. What sets CeCe apart, says Keisling, is that she was able to defend herself. “This isn’t a matter of someone being in her space,” she said, “These people were literally in her face. She defended herself and that’s what she’s being punished for.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality, which Ms. Keisling is the executive director of, tends to focus on issues of federal policy. According to Keisling, NCTE generally chooses not to impose itself on local activism. However, at the request of local organizers, she arrived in Minneapolis on her way to Chicago to express her support and help draw further attention to the case. “I don’t have any special power that I could put in my suitcase and bring to Minneapolis,” she said. “But hopefully local and national media, which have not done a good job covering this case, will notice people coming in from all over the country and take interest.” Other national figures attending the trial include writer and long-time activist, Leslie Feinberg, and founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Dean Spade.
Keisling is in Chicago today, where she is scheduled to give the keynote address for Depaul University’s Pride Month. According to Keisling, NCTE had also made arrangement to host its first ever meet-and-greet this week. However, plans for such an event have been canceled in order to attend and support tonight’s event calling for justice for Paige Clay, who was one of the four trans women of color killed across the country in April.