Free CeCe: The Story of Cece McDonald

Cece McDonald was at odds with her body by the age of eight, always being in awe of the women in her family. As the oldest of seven children, and growing up on Chicago’s South Side

with a single mother, her feelings were met with disappointment. She would pray at night as children at school made fun of her and her family told her to ‘pray that out of you’. She was bullied and beat up throughout school, still having to hide her appearance from her family as she would change in the school bathroom before going home.

As she was unable to find any hope within her family for acceptance, she ran away from home at the age of 14 after an uncle choked her for finding a love letter written to a boy. She began to sell crack and marijuana, and was raped by a man who lured her in by saying they were going to smoke weed. After the assault CeCe changed drastically, and turned to work as a child prostitute. The daily burdens she faced in this part of her life caused her to turn to attempting suicide.

Eventually, when hitting her 20s, CeCe earned her GED and went to community college in Minneapolis. She began with estrogen and wore a hormone patch on her hip. She legally changed her name, and was feeling secure in her identity for the first time in a long time. In May of 2011, CeCe got her own apartment for the first time and was very happy with herself. On June 5th, 2011, CeCe was attacked by Dean Scmitz and Molly Flaherty who were transphobic white supremacists. It started with Flaherty breaking a glass on CeCe’s face after they were using derogatory terms they yelled at CeCe and her friends. CeCe was later charged with second degree murder for stabbing Schmitz, while CeCe was in shock because this was purely self defense.

However, the public supported her before the trial but on May 2nd, 2012, CeCe pled guilty to a 41 month sentence in a state men’s prison. However, she was released after 19 months for good behavior. She said she never encountered violence and kept to herself, and focused on recovering. The outside community during her incarceration started the Free CeCe campaign, which continued on and people from Paris and Glasgow were even sending her mail.

The Free CeCe documentary was filmed fairly early after she was released. She is the founder of the Black Excellence Collective, which is a black-led grassroots organizing collective that uses direct action, art, and popular education to uplift and empower queer, transgender and gender non conforming people of color. She is an inspiration and a survivor, and still lives her life to the fullest.

By Bri Murphy

Sources: Rolling Stone,