Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Pre-order Book!
Pre-order Book!
Donate

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

Trans activist Monica James to address UN on police violence
by Gretchen Rachel Blickensderfer
2014-11-12

This article shared 8715 times since Wed Nov 12, 2014
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Just four years ago, society had got the best of Monica James. Her more-than-40-year battle to just survive as a transgender woman of color on the streets of Chicago was one that had left her physically broken and mentally depleted. The last of her will to fight was gone and there was absolutely nothing she could scrape up from her once audacious determination to find her own path.

At the time, James was sitting in a Cook County courtroom alongside her attorney and Owen Daniel-McCarter of the Transformative Justice Law Project ( TJLP ) while all the venom and callow disregard for her identity was allegedly manifested in a States Attorney who was salivating in a desire to put the final nails in her coffin with a 20-to-80-year prison sentence for an incident involving a plainclothes police officer.

Instead, on Nov. 9, 2014, James boarded a plane bound for Geneva, Switzerland. There, she was slated to address three different committees at the United Nations on her life experiences with the legal and correctional systems of the state of Illinois and upon the horrific violence inflicted both inside and outside of the courtroom and prison complex on transgender women of color in a cycle that has become as equally routine as it is willfully ignored.

James—who has rarely known life outside of the eight-by-12-foot concrete enclosure of a prison cell—will spend her first time outside of the United States with opportunities to surround herself with the seemingly endless majesty of the Swiss Alps. The heights to which they reach are ones she now believes she is more than capable of matching. She is not alone in this opinion. A gofundme campaign launched in October with the goal of covering her travel expenses steadily grew in donations each day. During an interview with Windy City Times Nov. 8, James was informed that it had surpassed $5,000.00.

Born in Garfield Park, at the age of 12 she relocated with her family to the South side neighborhood of Roseland. During the year she spent as a Freshman at Corliss High School, James said she identified as queer and so was physically assaulted by men from within the school and the community. "Boys would invite me to come to an event or to one of their houses," she recalled. "Then five or six of them would come out and they would jump me. I've had my ribs fractured, my arms broken. I've had my face hit with a brick. I still have that scar today along with a thousand other scars that I accumulated along the course of my life."

James survived those early years through the music of Miles Davis and songs such as Whitney Houston's "I Believe in You and Me."

"It's my go-to song," she said with a smile. "I was just listening to it last night and it always lifts me and filters me."

Her home life certainly offered little respite. Although James described him as loving and supportive, her father was a survivor of racial segregation, profiling and brutality. He would often show a violent streak—accumulated during those years—in attacks upon her mother that James remembers as far back as the age of five.

During her sophomore year and to at least gain some sense of stability, James moved to Rogers Park to live with her Aunt and attended Sullivan High School. The diversity the school offered seemed to change her life for the better. "It was great," she said. "It was safe and I felt like I was finding myself. I got engaged with the activities at Sullivan; I was a part of the modern dance team, I ran track and field, I even performed on the pom-pom team a couple of times."

It was an experience that was robbed from her in 1989 when, as a senior, she came out as transgender. "I was told by the principal and my dance teacher that I was no longer welcome in the school," she remembered. "They said that I was a distraction to all the other students. It was crushing—like a dagger in my heart because I had worked so hard to align myself with being a student and being as bold and honest as I possibly could."

James said that her aunt subsequently asked her to leave her home. "She told me that I shouldn't have gone to school dressed like that. That was it. I was left to the streets. There was something about being a trans* woman of color then that was taboo in the African American community. It's worse today because now they not only totally disregard you but they will humiliate, taunt and hurt you right in your face with no repercussions and no remorse"

Terrified, confused and with no idea as to what to do with her life without an education, James became a part of an underground LGBT community. "I was the younger person in an older group whose lives were in the sex trade," she said. "It was their means of survival and so it became mine. All I really wanted was love and support and some direction."

She quickly became a victim of police profiling, maintaining that she was stopped when walking to the bus or L stop, to and from the grocery store or leaving a bar. "If I did anything against that officer's liking, I would be physically attacked," she said. "It didn't take much to cross that line and find yourself busted up and in the hospital. After they attacked you, they would say you assaulted them and then you were on your way to the county jail."

All told, over the course of 17 years, James estimated the number of separate occasions that she spent in the maximum divisions of the Cook County Jail as being more than 100. In an incident that occurred during a strip search, James asserted that an officer beat her with a stick because she was wearing a swim suit underneath her clothes. She added that she was covered with bruises and welts over all her body.

Her humanity methodically eroded through each interaction with law enforcement and the criminal justice system, James started to self-medicate. "I started with cocaine and that led to smoking crack," she said. "Now I had to take care of an addiction."

In doing so, her means of survival switched from sex work to retail theft. This ultimately meant lengthy prison sentences. She spent 18 months in general population in a male prison in downstate Illinois where she maintained that she was raped and assaulted on a continual basis. If she defended herself, she was placed in solitary confinement or transferred to a maximum security facility to live among high profile criminals. Without any visits from family members or friends or any money given to her for basic commissary needs, James tried to attach herself to an inmate who could act as a provider of money, protection and love. Prison life became a way of life and she was never free for long.

James described a day in 2007 that led to a pivotal moment for her. She was caught stealing goods from a store in Lakeview by a plainclothes police officer. "He started whipping me with his gun," she said. "From there, an all out brawl took place on the middle of Broadway. I yelled for help, but no one was interested."

She recalled being arrested by a small army of Chicago Police Department ( CPD ) officers, slapped with an array of charges including Attempted Murder of a Police Officer and placed in the maximum security Division 11 of Cook County Jail. While incarcerated, James wrote to every LGBT advocacy group she could think of. "I would always tell them I was a transgender woman of color," she said. "I never got a response; nothing."

That was until she wrote to Daniel-McCarter. "He came to the jail and went over all the charges," James recollected. "He said, 'Monica, you are phenomenal. You have been through so much and we are going to beat this'."

Despite Daniel-McCarter both rallying the community behind James and offering invaluable information to her public defender on the life of a transgender individual, James still felt like she should accept a plea deal. "I was afraid of going to trial," she said. "I knew that, as a transgender woman of color, I didn't have much chance of it being fair. My jury would not be a jury of my peers, but they would be coming from the suburbs; all white collar and no common ground."

Daniel-McCarter encouraged her to stand up for her rights. But, at trial, James asserted that the state's attorney undercut best efforts to provide her with credibility during his arguments to the jury. "He told [them] that I was a liar because 'the defendant is standing before your very eyes claiming to be a woman, when we know good and, well, it's a man.' He had told the jury that we were all liars and deceitful because of our gender identity," James said. "I looked at Owen and I saw how badly that hit him. I've had dirt thrown in my face and my brains beat out so it didn't affect me. But the look of hurt and disgust in Owen's face, made me want to fight."

And fight they did, managing to win a partial victory when the charges were lowered to aggravated battery. James received a sentence of seven years in the Big Muddy River Correctional Facility. However, even while she was behind bars, suddenly people were interested in James' story. They wanted her to speak, and so opportunities opened up to her from within the community. With time served, she was released in 2011 and started to work with the TJLP while also contributing her story to the Joey Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie and Kay Whitlock book Queer Injustice.

She took a job as a peer leader at the TransLife Center at the Chicago House and, in September of this year, at Howard Brown Health Center. The revelation that she would be going to Geneva as a representative of the TJLP came as a complete surprise. "For a girl who just got off parole and has never been out of the country, my first trip is the grandest trip ever," James said with tears pouring down her cheeks. "I feel like Cinderella. I went through hell where no one gave a damn about me and now I am going to a place where the whole world will be listening. My message will be that, as long as the state continues to overlook profiling of people like me, we will always be a weak state. There's homeless youth on the street, there's violence on every corner that is incited by police. All I know is the mud, so my conversation will be very hard."

In all likelihood, James will listen to her go-to song the night before her first speech and revel in its words in a way she never before believed possible. "And I believe in dreams again," Houston sang. "I believe that love will never end and, like the river finds the sea/ I was lost, now I'm free."


This article shared 8715 times since Wed Nov 12, 2014
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Tennessee governor signs anti-trans 'bathroom bill'
2021-05-15
On May 14, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed House Bill 1233 (Senate Bill 1367)—an anti-transgender "bathroom bill"—into law, The Advocate reported. The statute will deny trans students and staff in ...


Gay News

U.S. House GOPs select Stefanik to succeed Cheney
2021-05-14
On May 14, House Republicans voted to elevate Rep. Elise Stefanik to the number-three leadership position of conference chair, CNN.com reported. The development happened after the party, on May 12, ousted U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney from ...


Gay News

Quigley advocates for trans immigrants during ICE hearing
2021-05-13
--From a press release - WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), Vice-Chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus and a founding member of the Transgender Equality Task Force, questioned Acting Director of Immigration ...


Gay News

Mayor Lightfoot expands vaccine exemption with Bridge Phase May 14
2021-05-13
--From a press release - CHICAGO — Today, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot along with CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D., and BACP Commissioner Rosa Escareño announced a full expansion of the Vaccine Exemption when Chicago enters the Bridge Phase of reopening tomorrow, ...


Gay News

Gov. Pritzker confirms Illinois will enter Bridge Phase of reopening May 14
2021-05-13
--From a press release - CHICAGO —Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) confirmed today the entire state will move into the Bridge Phase of the Restore Illinois reopening plan tomorrow, Friday, May 14. The Bridge ...


Gay News

Federal judge hears incarcerated trans woman's motion
2021-05-13
On May 12, a federal judge heard an emergency motion in a case charging the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) with violating the constitutional rights of Ashley Diamond—a Black transgender woman currently incarcerated in a men's ...


Gay News

Biden to nominate Lhamon to lead the DoE's Office for Civil Rights
2021-05-13
President Joe Biden plans to nominate Catherine Lhamon to lead the Department of Education's (DoE's) Office for Civil Rights, NBC News reported. If confirmed, Lhamon would have a highly visible role in determining how the federal ...


Gay News

International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia to take place May 17
2021-05-13
--From a press release - LGBTQI+ networks, individuals and allies from around the world will be celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia again this year on Monday, May 17. The theme for this year's events, known also as ...


Gay News

GOP ousts Liz Cheney from leadership role
2021-05-12
On May 12, U.S. House Republicans voted quickly to remove U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney as their number-three leader over her repeated criticism of Donald Trump—a massive shakeup that ties the party tighter to Trump and threatens ...


Gay News

Gov. Pritzker announces $1B in Rebuild Illinois grants for Local infrastructure projects
2021-05-11
--From a press release - CHAMPAIGN — As summer construction season ramps up, Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) today announced the fourth round of $250 million in Rebuild Illinois funded grants is available to advance municipal, ...


Gay News

Stephanie Battaglino, New York Life's first transgender officer, releases memoir
2021-05-11
--From a press release - May 11, 2021… Educator and motivational speaker Stephanie Battaglino today officially released her memoir, Reflections from Both Sides of the Glass Ceiling: Finding My True Self in Corporate America, from L'Oste Vineyard Press. After many years ...


Gay News

TELEVISION Jasmine Davis returns to 'The Chi'
2021-05-11
Actress Jasmine Davis has a past history with Chicago, Illinois that continues into the future. Growing up in the Windy City has certainly paid off for the transgender performer throughout her career. After attending Kenwood High ...


Gay News

Unprecedented 18 anti-LGBTQ bills enacted in 2021
2021-05-11
--From a Human Rights Campaign press release - WASHINGTON, D.C. — With an unprecedented number of anti-LGBTQ measures sweeping through state legislatures across the country, 2021 has officially surpassed 2015 as the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in ...


Gay News

Evangelical Lutherans select first transgender bishop
2021-05-10
The Evangelical Lutheran Church elected its first openly transgender bishop on May 8, The Hill reported. The Rev. Megan Rohrer, who uses the pronouns they/them, was elected bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Sierra ...


Gay News

GLAAD issues inaugural Social Media Safety Index
2021-05-10
--From a press release - New York, NY - May 10, 2021 - GLAAD, the world's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) media advocacy organization, today announced the findings of its inaugural Social Media Safety Index (SMSI), a 50-page ...


 



Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS







Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.