Donzell Francis Will Not Face the Death Penalty

2011 June 3

Donzell Francis, the San Francisco man accused of raping and killing Ruby Ordenana, will not face the death penalty.

Francis has already been sentenced to eighteen years in prison for the sexual assault, beating, and robbing of a transgender sex worker. He now stands accused of attacking two other transgender sex workers, including Ruby Ordenana, who was found dead on March 16, 2007. (All three of the sex workers were female-presenting people of color.)

According to an article in The Examiner District Attorney George Gascón will not be pursuing a death penalty conviction, reserving this for cases that are “very heinous”.

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An Open Letter to SlutWalk Chicago

2011 May 16

Dear Slutwalk Chicago,

I am writing to ask that you remove my blog, Faithful Image, from the list of allies currently available at your web site. Though I did request information from you regarding opportunities to volunteer and help spread the word via my blog, I have never expressed a desire to be an “ally”. The more I learn about both SlutWalk Chicago and the SlutWalk movement that flows from Toronto, the more I have concerns about both. In all likelihood I would have requested removal sooner, but it was only recently that I learned that you had added my blog to your list. This is the sort of matter I ordinarily like to handle in private, but because you have without my consent implicated that I have aligned my mission “with the mission of SlutWalk Chicago”, I feel the need to make my objections public.

As you say on your web site, SlutWalk Chicago’s mission statement is “adapted from Slutwalk Toronto’s satellite guidelines“. Even outside of any context these guidelines raise some red flags. One is that though men are mentioned three times, apparently to make sure men do not feel excluded, many people who face multiple oppressions are not mentioned at all. As a trans woman, I find the lack of any mention of trans status to be significant. There are at least four reasons why actions aimed at ending sexual violence in North America should explicitly include trans people:

  1. Trans people are at higher risk of sexual assault than our cis counterparts.
  2. The popularity of the stereotypes of the transsexual prostitute and the stealthy deceiver play into the slut-shaming of trans women and transfeminine people.
  3. It was only within the past five years that a serial rapist–killer in North America was targeting sex workers of color who were trans women.
  4. The feminist movement has a history of saying that through our feminine presentation trans women and transfeminine people invite rape; accusing us of the rape of cis women simply because we express ourselves as women; and excluding us from social justice movements by violent means or, short of that, calls for our violent deaths.

If it seems that I am reading too much into SlutWalk Toronto’s silence, I think we only need to look at its recent response to Aura Blogando to see that it has not paid adequate attention to the concerns of people who are the targets of multiple opressions. Aura is the woman who wrote the critique “SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy”. Though I feel the post is worth a read, I believe it would be a detour to defend it. The point I want to make here is that whatever the accuracy of Aura’s piece, I find little to commend and much to deplore in SlutWalk Toronto’s response. This response began with “SlutWalk is NOT all white and not white supremacy at its finest”, a piece that reaks of white privilege and a sense of entitlement. Rather than attempt to improve on greatness I will refer you to the response found in Struggling to Be Heard. Because I initially sought to participate in SlutWalk Chicago without raising critical questions about its inclusion of women of color and other people who are targets of oppressions that I benefit from, I cannot claim to hold any moral high ground. However, I do not believe that this sort of negligence is something I should strive for, and now that the SlutWalk Toronto’s reactionary stance is manifest, I have no desire to be a part of an action led by people who desire to follow its guidelines.

I believe there is another matter we need to consider: Even if SlutWalk Chicago renamed itself and distanced itself from SlutWalk Toronto, would the voices of people who face multiple oppressions be heard? I do not have enough information to give a justified answer to this question, but I can speak to my own experience. When you gave the call for committee “leaders”, I told you that I could not lead, but I volunteered to sit on one of the committees. I never heard any response to this. If a leader was chosen for the committee I volunteered to be on, I was neither given an opportunity to cast a vote nor so much as told who was chosen. If SlutWalk Chicago or any of its committees has ever held a meeting where trans people can express our concerns, I was never invited, and my voice has never been heard. This is not for a lack of time or resources; I have received several announcements from SlutWalk Chicago, always telling me what I can do to help the walk. If SlutWalk Chicago’s aim is “to engage” me “in dialogue”, the onus for insuring this dialogue occurs has rested entirely on my shoulders. So while I do not claim to have absolute certainty, I am not confident that SlutWalk Chicago, as it is currently organized, leaves enough room at the table for women of color, trans women, and other people who face multiple oppressions.

I believe most people who get things wrong have good intentions, and this belief has not been challenged by recent events. I believe most people involved in SlutWalk Chicago, including its leaders, are acting out of a desire to confront sexual violence and sexism, and I can only hope more people will come to share your concern. I also have another hope, which is that anti-sexist activists in Chicago and elsewhere will ask people who face multiple oppressions what we are already doing to confront sexism before creating yet another institution that includes us only as an afterthought.

Veronika Boundless


This Is Not the End

2010 December 19

Most people who know I am a woman will assume that I am ecstatic about recent legislation: The bill approved by the Illinois General Assembly making civil unions legal and the bill approved by the US Congress repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). However, people who have known me for some time might wonder. You see, I first delved into queer rights activism on Pride Day of 2004, when I joined a number of queer anarchists and allies in entering the Pride Parade, which we saw as a corporate sell-out, without a permit. A number of us commented on marriage, characterizing it as an oppressive institution. I do not remember whether we specifically addressed the issue of queer folks in the military, but people who saw the banner that read, “No war but class war,” might have inferred what the majority of us believed. We were not interested in reforming marriage or the military, we wanted to abolish them both.

Seven years have passed, and I am happy to learn about both pieces of recent legislation. Even so, I am not ecstatic. Though I am no longer an anarchist, I am still a radical. Marriage and the military have long been the primary concerns of white, cisgender, middle class gays and lesbians. Meanwhile organizations that have been in touch with the needs of working class queer and trans youth of color—organizations like Chicago’s Gender JUST—have tended to focus more on the systemic discrimination that is not codified into law, such as bullying in schools and the inequitable distribution of funding for AIDS prevention. When it comes to queer liberation, some of us have a longer way to go than the mainstream gay and lesbian rights organizations let on.

I am sincerely happy for the TBLGQ folks in Illinois who will no longer face institutional discrimination, but what about the problems it leaves unresolved? Even though the level of domestic violence in same-sex relationships is similar to the level of violence in straight relationships, the former is a lot more likely to be neglected. As the recent discourse regarding the accusations against Julian Assange shows, a ridiculously narrow definition of rape dominates in our sexist society, making it even more difficult for bisexual and queer women to be taken seriously. Considering that Illinois law formalizes a narrower definition of rape for victims whose perpetrators are their spouses, how attractive an option is marriage for those of us who survived sexual assault in same-sex relationships? As a trans woman who suffered abuse, including sexual abuse, at the hands of a transphobic woman who was my partner, I can tell you my personal perspective: The idea of being married is terrifying.

It is good that Congress has repealed DADT. Considering the rate at which black women were discharged under DADT, it was not only a heterosexist policy but also a racist and a sexist policy. However, repealing DADT will have no direct bearing on the fact that members of same-sex households are disproportionately more likely to serve. And why have they served? So that the US could destabilize Iraq to the point that it is arguably the worst country for TBLGQ people to be in? So that the party that is purported to be the party of “family values” could initiate a war in Afghanistan that has led to the daily death of 850 children? How does DADT—or any other legislation proposed by the mainstream gay and lesbian rights organizations—address the fact that it is straight folks’ war and queer folks’ fight?

If I could go back and relive my first day of activism, there is little I would change about my message. If I were to spend less time speaking out against marriage and the military, I would use the time I gained to speak out about the mainstream gay and lesbian community’s complacency when it comes to domestic violence and war. In the real world Illinois does not yet have equal marriage. Future generations will judge us based not only on our approval of reforms that would change this but also on whether we let focus on these reforms divert our attention from the plight of the most vulnerable members of our community.