FREE SPEECH ZONE | Transgender Woman Cites Self-Defense in Altercation


In the early morning of June 5th,  a young trans woman of color named Chrishaun McDonald and  her friends walked by the Schooner Tavern at the busy intersection of 27th and Lake in Minneapolis.  A white, older bar patron named Dean Schmitz stood at the door of the Schooner.  According to McDonald’s roommate, Schmitz started harassing McDonald, shouting, ” Did you think you were going to rape somebody in those girl clothes?” and adding racial slurs. What happened next is unclear.  Minutes later, Schmitz was dead and McDonald was in custody.   The Star Tribune writes that according to McDonald, Schmitz attacked her and ran into a pair of scissors that she held in self-defense.

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Now, in prison, Chrishaun is being held in solitary on a charge of second degree murder.  The trans rights advocate who has been trying to meet with her has been turned away repeatedly.  She is being charged as the wrong gender and media coverage describes her as a “man”.  News from the jail suggests harassment and abuse.  And let’s not kid ourselves – we’re looking at a court system where the deck is stacked against trans people, working class people and people of color.

A representative of the Trans Youth Support Network (TYSN) lays out the situation: “The attack on Chrishaun included racist, transphobic, and anti-feminine verbal assaults. These verbal< assaults are extensions of the violent machine works of our society that are built upon capitalist exploitation of people of color, poor people, and feminine presenting people.

Because she is poor, accessing a competent lawyer was difficult. Without the support of her friends and community, she would have been left with a Public Defender who may not have understood or supported her experiences as a trans woman, as is frequently the case for incarcerated gender non-conforming people.

In addition, she is not able to meet her $150,000 bail.

Had Chrishaun been able to access bail money, she would have had that much more contact with her family, friends, and community supporters.  She is without the freedom to organize support for herself because she’s in the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility.”

This case is a moment of decision  – if we’re queer, then it’s a moment of decision as queers, if white then as white people, if allies  then as allies.   Do we close our eyes and say “at least it’s not happening to me and I hope it never does” or do we get real about  the system that put Chrishaun where she is?

Ways to help: Defend Chrishaun McDonald Pack the Courtroom June 28th///Community Meeting June 29th///Donate Online to her Legal Defense Fund

Maybe you’re going to put this down and say “well, someone got killed – I don’t have any sympathy, and besides,  I would never be in that situation anyway.”  

Yeah, maybe you wouldn’t.   But if you were — if you were walking by a bar late at night, if you were a young trans woman of color facing down a much older white man, if you had survived the treatment trans women get in this society and you knew that particular score….?

Or put it another way – why should good lawyers be a privilege reserved for rich white cis people?  Maybe we don’t know what happened outside the Schooner, but we know that Chrishaun McDonald should have the same access to good legal representation and the same chance at an unbiased judge and jury as the wealthiest, whitest most cis-gendered person around, and we know how hard it is to make that happen.

-This is the way things work in America – someone has to lose.    There’s always someone to throw under the bus – poor people,  people of color, the non-respectable queers, moms on welfare, the disabled, prisoners.   The people “we” blame and the people whose suffering we ignore.   There’s no wealth without poverty, no good corporate workers without those lazy slackers on state benefits, no respectable womanhood without the other kinds of women, the kinds people can insult and attack. 

There’s always someone whose needs are less important than mine, at least until the day  I get tossed under, too.

I don’t know Chrishaun McDonald. 

I do know that trans women of color in the court system face nightmarish obstacles.

According to TYSN, over 30% of trans women of color are incarcerated every year.  “Statistics say that 38% are harassed, 15% are physically assaulted, and 7% are sexually assaulted while incarcerated–and these numbers are likely actually much higher, because collecting statistics on trans people in prisons and jails is extremely difficult.  These violent abuses are enacted upon them by both the police and fellow prisoners or people in prison.  Trans and gender non-conforming people often pose a problem to the gender segregated jail systems and more often than not the consequence is that they are placed in solitary confinement. Prisons and jails are notorious for terrible healthcare and medical neglect for everyone, and transgender people face additional barriers like transphobic and punitive medical care, or denial of transition-related care (like access to hormones).”


And I know the US prison system.  The same prison system that uses the recession to justify getting rid of education and medical care for prisoners.  The same prison system that contracts out its prisoners to do slave labor for big corporations.  The same prison system where 70 percent  of the prisoners are people of color; the bloated prison system that holds 2.3 million Americans, so many that the prisons can barely house all of them.

“In order to change the prison system, political efforts must be made and legislation must be passed,” writes the TYSN representative.   “For legislation to pass, people must be able to vote.  If over 30% of trans women of color are incarcerated, then they are unable to vote. And it’s very difficult for trans women of color to organize together because their lives are so disproportionately disrupted by policing and imprisonment. It is integral for jail solidarity to take that vote up for them to change these violent racist systems.”

Monstrous systems grow.  If Chrishaun McDonald gets an unfair trial in front of a biased jury, if she gets harassed or  denied medical care in prison, that’s the future we’re choosing for everyone.    It’s a vote in favor of injustice.

Solidarity is complicated, contoured by privilege, identity, power.  We have a lot of opportunities for mistakes and maybe we don’t have all the knowledge and skills that we need.  But we do know what it looks like when people get thrown under the bus, and we need to stop that thing before anyone else gets pushed under the wheels.

There is a community meeting for family, friends and supporters of Chrishaun McDonald on Wednesday, June 29th at Noon at the Trans Youth Support Network (TYSN) – 3405 Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis.

“Some people were dying.  Some people were busy….Some lives are more important than others.  Some deaths are shocking, some invisible.  We are a people in trouble.  We do not act.” – Sarah Schulman, People In Trouble

8 thoughts on “FREE SPEECH ZONE | Transgender Woman Cites Self-Defense in Altercation

  1. Let me get this straight… A man died after he runs into a pair of scissors that were being held in self defense… B.S. Transgendered or not, this person deserved to go to prison! I am glad the trany could not post bail. Just because you don’t like another person’s language does not give you the right to stab the person with a pair of scissors.

  2. Oh, racism AND sexual discrimination is alive and well in Minnesota? With conservative Republican pundits from our state touting their assault of American freedoms, not a shock.  We are but a mere dysfunctional red state that is losing its blue paint.  

  3. So let me get this straight (no pun intended)

    Its ok to end a life just because someone called you a name?

    Say I wanted to off someone, I just need to dress up as a woman, approach the person I wanted to get rid of, and get them to call me names regarding my sexual preference, or hint that I wanted to “swing the other way” and then stab that person if they act disgusted or voice their opinion of me?

    Is this what you want us to believe is acceptable behavior?

    You exorcised your freedom to choose how you want to be.. Just because society doesn’t overwhelmingly accept that choice, doesn’t mean you can start challenging society’s opinion with violence.

    Pulling the race card out in this incident was about the lamest use of that card I’ve ever seen.

    Murder is Murder no matter what color or lifestyle choice you live… PERIOD  

  4. This article neglects to mention a few very important details.

    1. There were two other women with Schmitz that were yelling obscenities at McDonald

    2. One of these women SMASHED HER DRINK INTO McDONALD’S FACE, which literally sliced her cheek and lacerated her salivary gland.  This occurred before McDonald took the scissors out in self-defense.

    “Let me get this straight… A man died after he runs into a pair of scissors that were being held in self defense… B.S. Transgendered or not, this person deserved to go to prison! I am glad the trany could not post bail. Just because you don’t like another person’s language does not give you the right to stab the person with a pair of scissors.”

    You yourself say, “being held in self defense.”  It’s unfortunate that you do not understand the definition of self defense.  It’s not a matter of being upset that McDonald was spoken to in such a horrific manner, she was physically attacked!  She had every right to defend herself.  She didn’t initiate the attack.  And nowhere does it say that she was responding to Schmitz harrassing her; she only reacted when her face was smashed with a glass.

    It’s unfortunate that the altercation ended with someone’s death…but it’s his own fault.  He kept harrassing McDonald and he was the one that initiated the attack.  It also says in the article that he ran into the scissors. Running into scissors does not equal being stabbed.  Basically, he got himself stabbed. 

    It probably happened like this:

    They were yelling at her.

    They cut her face with a glass.

    She took out her scissors as defense.

    He ran forward to harm her.

    She was still holding out her scissors in the hopes that he would stop.


    McDonald did nothing wrong.  If she hadn’t taken out the scissors to defend herself, she would probably be dead because those ignorant, hateful people were out to physically harm her.

    You just got educated by a high school student.  I feel really bad for you, and I hope your ignorance can be cured.

    “Grow up or shut up.”

  5. I only hope that you never get the chance to be judged by 12 of your peers. Simpletons who could judge your level of fear from a few repeated words in an article on the Internet…

  6. You let me know when you get a glass smashed in your face and if you don’t use the scissors in your hand to defend yourself….because I know for a FACT I would.  Just because a person is not like you doesn’t give you the right to assault them with words, either.

  7. You are a digusting person and should be ashamed of yourself. Did you even read the article? Clearly not. This is not a case of premeditated murder. Chrishaun McDonald  didn’t just decide to kill some random guy for the hell of it. This trans woman was arrested mearly for defending herself against someone who physically attacked her. I think that if you were in a situation where someone was threatening your life that you would, like most people, defend yourself if given the chance. And I would not depise you for it, so why do you accuse McDonald of first degree murder meerly for defending herself? Furthermore, the point of the article is that our justice system is unequal and that she’s unlikely to have a fair trial or a good lawyer because she’s black, poor, and transgender. The only people in this country who have a chance of being treated with fairness in our so-called justice system are people who are white, wealthy, heterosexual, and non-transgender.

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