Attack on Trans Woman in McDonalds: Hate Crime, Wake-Up Call, Horrifying

community rallies around chrissy lee polis

On April 18, Chrissy Lee Polis, who is 22 and a trans woman, tried to use the washroom in a McDonald’s in Maryland and was attacked by two patrons instead.

According to the police report, the incident began when the two attackers were upset when Polis tried to use the women’s bathroom in the McDonald’s. They then attacked her as she lay on the floor, while a McDonald’s employee filmed the incident and other employees and customers just stood around. In the video, which is available here (with a warning that it is indeed a hate crime, and very violent), there is audible laughing in the background. Another McDonald’s employee and a female customer attempted to separate the attackers.

On Sunday, in an interview in the Baltimore Sun, Polis said the attack was “definitely a hate crime” and talked a little about her experience:

“They started ripping my hair, throwing me on the floor, kicking me on my face. When I tried to use the phone, the girl ripped the phone out of my hand […] when I sat there to collect my stuff back, the one girl kicked me in my back, stepped on my arm. I had so many bruises. […] I don’t remember having a seizure. I do remember going into one, that’s why I tried to sit there and be calm. Every time I tried to walk away, they followed me. […] Anyone in my predicament should not be afraid to walk the streets. They should not have to go into a restaurant and get gawked at and made fun of. They shouldn’t be afraid to leave the house. It’s just wrong.”

The 14-year-old assailant has been charged as a juvenile with second-degree assault. Teonna Monae Brown, 18, has been charged with first-degree assault and two counts of second-degree assault. Brown was also involved in an incident last July, at the same McDonald’s, though those charges were dropped.

The franchise owner of the McDonald’s in question fired the employee who made the video.

So far, responses to the incident have ranged from outraged and supportive (anyone with a moral compass) to neutral and blase (McDonald’s corporate statement, which I’ll share in a minute).

On Monday, Joseline Pena-Melnyk, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, sent a letter to the others in her legislature. In it, she calls for an anti-discrimination bill that protects gender identity in terms of employment, housing, and public accommodation, as well as reminding her colleagues that protecting trans rights is an important part of protecting civil rights. We have talked about this before. Part of the letter reads:

“I respectfully ask that each of you take the time to view the video at this link, but please be advised that it is disturbing and portrays a horrific hate crime: http://tinyurl.com/3roab9m

Incidents such as this illustrate why the transgender community in Maryland and elsewhere needs to be protected through anti-discrimination legislation. Supporters of House Bill 235 in this past legislative session recognized this need and stood up for the rights of this community. While HB235 did not include protection from discrimination in public accommodations due to the intense pressure opponents placed on the bill’s supporters, the bill would have raised public awareness of the issue and paved the way for complete protection for Maryland’s transgender population. Contrary to statements made by those who should be leading the fight for civil rights in Maryland, this was not an anti-family bill, but a basic civil rights bill. […]

I challenge each of the Senators who voted to recommit HB235 on sine die (see the link at http://mlis.state.md.us/2011rs/votes/senate/1123.htm) to serve as primary sponsors of a stronger version of HB235 in the 2012 legislative session. It is time to rectify the wrong that has been done to transgender citizens of our State.”

The bill she talks about, HB235, was meant to protect trans people from housing discrimination as well as giving additional employment and credit protections, though the extent it would have managed to actually do that is very debatable. HB235 was discarded by the Maryland Senate just two weeks ago.

On Monday evening, there was a rally against transphobic violence outside the Baltimore McDonald’s in which the attack took place. About 300 people, including activists, politicians, and Polis’s mother and grandmother, attended. In an interview with the Washington Blade, Kathleen Hand, her grandmother, said, “I want to thank everyone personally who came tonight. Chrissy is doing great.” In related news, Ms. Hand is expected to win the Most Awesome Grandma Ever Award later this year.

This response is also much, much better than the official McDonald’s stance on the issue, which, in full, reads:

“There’s no room for violence under the Golden Arches. We strongly condemn the videotaped brutal assault in one of our Baltimore-area franchised restaurants.

First and foremost, our thoughts are with the victim, Chrissy Polis, as she recovers.

Our franchisee continues to investigate the behavior and response of his employees. Appropriate action is taking place as warranted.

We want to reassure our customers that your neighborhood McDonald’s is a safe welcoming place for everyone. We share our customers’ concern. We are doing everything possible to make sure the right thing is done.”

This isn’t the first time a trans person has been assaulted in a McDonald’s. In 2006, Christina Sforza used the women’s bathroom (a fact which should have been irrelevant for anyone of any gender since the men’s was out of order), and was attacked by someone wearing a blue McDonald’s uniform, who Sforza believed was the manager. He hit her head and body with a lead pipe while yelling, “I’m going to kill you” and the f-word, while other staff and customers watched and cheered.

In 2009, Zikerria Bellamy was refused a job interview in a Florida McDonald’s because she’s transgender. Bellamy was also verbally abused by the manager at that franchise, who said“You will not get hired. We do not hire faggots. You lied to me. You told me you was a woman. And then you lied to me.”

Change.org has launched a petition to hold McDonald’s accountable. Yesterday hundreds of people turned out in a rally to support Polis.

As Jos on Feministing points out, trans people, and especially trans women, are targeted at disproportionately high numbers, and just locking everyone up on criminal charges doesn’t get rid of transphobia, it just moves it to a different place.

However, the idea that, once again, an incident of transphobic violence will disappear and leave McDonald’s without consequences, legal or otherwise, is upsetting. Their statement is far more concerned with everyone’s continued patronage of McDonald’s than it is about discriminatory attacks on transpeople. Apathy like this needs to be socially unacceptable. Policy needs to change — even if it’s only the in-house policy of an evil restaurant chain (to start). Pena-Melynk’s bill is a step in the right direction. Just “investigat[ing] the behaviour and response” of the assailants isn’t.

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Carolyn is the NSFW Editor for Autostraddle.com. She is also a freelance copy editor and writer, and her work has appeared in Bitch, The Toast, Xtra!, Jezebel, and other places. Find her on twitter.

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55 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

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    Fucking hell, do you know what though, you can see it in the longer video that an older lady stepped in and fair play to her, she did everything she could to stop it, and if she had not stepped in and tried to help I fully believe they would have dragged the woman who was being attacked outside and killed her. The woman who tried to stop the attack deserves a medal! While the others just stood around, I dont get it, how could anyone just stand idly by while someone is being beaten to death. Those wastes of space should put themselves in the attacked womans shoes and see how they’d like it.

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      I agree with this! I think those women planned on murder!! the way they were kicking, hitting and beating her…even giving the old lady a few shoves, proves that to me. I think assault is to mild a charge…attempted murder would be better!

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    I literally want to find those girls and physically/mentally harm them..but that would be wrong. People make me sick. Peace and blessings.

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    I have a question… I saw an interview with Chrissy Lee Polis in which she said that the boyfriend of one of the attackers had talked to her (said “hey baby” or something along on those lines) and she went to the bathroom and when she returned the girls began attacking her for talking to her boyfriend. She didn’t mention anything in the interview about being attacked for using the women’s restroom. Did anyone else see this? I’m just wondering because I saw this interview but then most websites have been reporting that Polis was attacked for using the women’s bathroom. I’m just confused about the conflicting stories. I suppose it doesn’t really matter though, because either way it’s horrible.

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    Just for clarifiction – phrases like “outside the Baltimore McDonald’s in which the attack took place” are misleading. It didn’t happen in Baltimore, it happened in Rosedale, MD, which is a neighboring suburb.

    Although I’m sure Baltimore itself is not the greatest place for trans people, either – though I wouldn’t know personally since I am not trans. Baltimore has a very visible queer community and I’ve always felt accepted here, but acceptance of different sexual orientations, and acceptance of different gender identities, are two different things. The way Maryland is dragging its feet about trans rights is appalling.

    I guess I’m just grateful that it isn’t nearly as bad as my home state (Michigan) on these issues.

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    I would point out, and I’m a transwoman myself, the lady who was attacked says in her interview that the attack wasn’t about her being a transwoman, it was because the other girl’s boyfriend was being a dog and trying to talk to her, to which the attacking girl took offense at, and beat on the lady who was attacked.

    Not to minimize the horror of the attack, just pointing out that it was NOT about being a trans woman using the Lady’s Room.

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      Oh come on, of course it was. Other people would not have joined in, and the McDonald’s employees and other patrons would not have cheered them on, if that was the whole story.

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        Since the transwoman herself, in at least one interview, said it was not about her being trans. I think you have to at least consider the possibility that people are shouting “hate crime” without justification.

        As for people not cheering if it wasn’t a hate crime. Have you ever been in a public high school? A fight once started over two girls wearing the same shirt at my school. The cheering and laughing and egging them on started almost immediately. It was not pretty, teachers had to break them up. People are not always good. Sometimes they cheer on despicable acts of violence for no reason other than that they enjoy the violence.

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          AFAIK, she never flat out said “This was not about me being trans” or “This was not a hate crime.” And yea, the incident was not simple or easy to understand, but acts of violence like this rarely are.

          From the Washington Blade:
          “A police report says the incident began when the two female attackers became upset after seeing Polis enter the women’s bathroom at the McDonald’s. The employee who recorded the incident posted a message on his YouTube site saying Polis was a man dressed like a woman who entered the women’s bathroom.”

          http://www.washingtonblade.com/2011/04/25/hundreds-rally-in-md-to-protest-trans-violence/

          Whether the authorities decide to label it a hate crime or not, hopefully this incident will be a wake up call to the rest of the world about the real dangers trans people face every time they use a public restroom. Having safe bathroom access should not be a right exclusive to cis people, and the gender panic of bigots should not be an excuse for the continued lack of concern for the nondiscrimination rights of trans people by legislators. Ugh.

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            http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-mcdonalds-beating-20110423,0,3336656.story

            An article in which she appears to confirm that the fact she is trans was an aggravating factor in the attack, and in which an attacker is quoted as indicating it was, in a police report: it may be that the dispute began over the behaviour of one of the attackers boyfriends, but that doesn’t mean the fact she was trans didn’t play a part in the responce, escalation and victimisation of the assault.

            I don’t know if that is grounds for a hate crime conviction, but I find it hard to see how her gender presentation was not factor, given the comments.

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            @romana – re: your last paragraph, it’ll take a while to get there considering there are commenters on even LGBT sites like this one who seem way too quick to wave it off as “not a hate crime” and therefore not worthy of their concern. People really do not take trans rights seriously enough.

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            I’m perfectly willing to say it’s a hate crime. IF it was caused by her being trans. All I’m saying is if it was NOT caused by her being trans then calling it a hate crime is incorrect. It would still be a vicious crime either way and the culprits need to be punished, but hate crimes are separated from normal crime for a reason.

            Everyone seems way to eager to say “hate crime” just because she is trans. Does that mean any crime committed on me (a lesbian) is a hate crime? Whether or not it was perpetrated because I’m gay? That destroys the very definition of what a hate crime is.

            If it was a hate crime, I’ll be more than willing to admit I was wrong. I think we (as a community) are jumping to conclusions without all the facts.

            trypr: We don’t know what the girls who attacked her were thinking. Have they even been apprehended yet? Until we know their reasons (because I didn’t see anything in that video that actually made me think this was caused by her being trans) we can’t say this was a hate crime.

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            They have been. (Apprehended, that is.) I don’t know whether they have given any motivation for the attack (or, if they have, whether that information would be released to the public.)

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            Also, I never claimed it wasn’t worthy of concern. Chrissy is a human being, she has a rights. She was abused and assaulted and that is a horrible horrible thing. It sickens me whenever this happens to anyone of any orientation or gender.

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          Lol, I think I’ll let the two other responses speak for themselves about whether I’m “crying ‘hate crime’ without justification.”

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      Just to clarify my position, I posted this over at Tumblr.

      http://jel-1968.tumblr.com/post/5014394966/the-attack-in-mcdonalds

      I’m quoting it here, but it may be truncated due to comment limits.

      ******* quote ********

      But, I am following the coverage of Chrissy Lee Polis, a transwoman who was attacked and beaten in McDonalds (trigger warning, this is a graphic and triggering video, even people without issues or “triggers” have been reduced to tears and vomiting by this. You have been warned.) while a lot of people stood and filmed the attack, and only one or two did anything to stop it, or even protest.

      Let us remove the transsexual aspect of this for a moment. A white lady was attacked by a black teen and a black pre-teen. Why? The attack happened when the teen’s boyfriend tried to strike up a conversation with Chrissy as she was going to the bathroom. She said “wait a minute” and went to the bathroom. When she came out she was attacked.

      Chrissy’s interview put the sequence of events like that. Apparently she also has a seizure disorder, which she knew could be triggered by the attack. She was trying desperately to stop a seizure from happening to her.

      It is murky as to whether or not the issue of her being a transwoman had anything to do with this. At no point in the video of the attack do you hear either of the assailants admit that is the case. It is blurry as to if this was a factor, or if the teen was upset because her BF was being a dog and took it out on the white woman as provoking the misbehavior of her BF.

      All that aside, this is a horrific crime. The assailants should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. The pre-teen should NOT be charged as a juvenile, she should be prosecuted as a rabid animal (IMO, if she’s attacking in a pack for no damned good reason, she should be treated as such) and put down. Gender/skin color aside, this is a very clear case of assault, terroristic threats, assault and battery, and more.

      Calling it a “hate crime” brings a whole new dynamic into it. Yes, it could be a hate crime of two transphobes attaching a transwoman. It could be a hate crime of two black females attacking a white female for NO DAMNED REASON. But by the Hate Crime Legislation, it brings several factors that *I* am not comfortable with.

      If either of the attackers said that they did this because Chrissy is trans, then good, use the Hate Crimes to prosecute them. Please do so. If they say that it was done because she was a white bitch tempting a good black man to do “thangs” with her, then also use the Hate Crimes Legislation.

      BUT UNTIL THEN, LEAVE THE HATE CRIMES OUT OF IT.

      This is what I feared would happen when the Hate Crimes bill was passed into law. Someone would do something that was horrendous, terrible, stupid, monstrous, against a minority group, like the Gays, the Asians and so on, and look like a bigot doing it, and this would be pulled in as added charges, to make things even more wrong.

      I do not think that this legislation is needed because it prosecutes what someone believes, what they think, not what they do.

      I’m a liberal, and I think that everyone should be allowed to be themselves. I think that there needs to be laws to protect Matthew Shepard and all those in similar situations, like myself, from crime targeted specifically at them by those who hate them, because they hate them.

      Sound complex? It’s not. Let me explain this:

      You have a beating happening. It is a white man beating a black man to a pulp. No murder. He has a white robe and a pointy hat on, and is a known member of the KKK. Prosecute him for hating and beating the black man because he hates him. You have a white man who is beating a black man to a pulp. You CANNOT prosecute him for his beliefs, because you can’t prove that he has those beliefs at this point. Right now, it’s assault. It’s not racially motivated assault. You can’t say for a definite fact that the white man was a bigot and hated the black man.

      It is the same for this case. No one, right now, can say for a fact that Chrissy got beaten for being trans. So there’s no way you can bring in the Hate Crimes Legislation.

      But prove that it was a factor, and that they attacked her for being trans and using the women’s bathroom, and yeah, attach that sucker to the crime.

      But not until then.

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        I think it makes perfect sense to leave the hate crime issue out of it: I can see it’s not a piece of legislation you feel comfortable with.

        However, it makes no sense to marginalise the fact she was trans* as a non-issue. It seems very clear that it was a factor in the behaviour of more than one individual. From the article I linked:

        ~”They said, ‘That’s a dude, that’s a dude and she’s in the female bathroom,’ ” said Chrissy Lee Polis, 22~

        ~The police report does not provide a motive but quotes one of the suspects saying that the fight was “over using a bathroom.”~

        And there are the comments of the video-maker; which indicate that the fact she was trans* played a role in his response (which was reprehensible, if not criminal).

        Hate crime or not, it seems very likely, if not explicit, that the fact Chrissy is trans* played a role in these events, which include the bystanders. Dismissing that narrative, short of legal proof for a criminal conviction, effectively marginalises concerns about the evident transphobia.

        I think there’s a better way to say you don’t think there’s enough evidence that it was a hate crime, or that you think hate crime legislation is inappropriate here, than stating the attack was “NOT about being a trans woman using the Lady’s Room”, when there’s contradicting evidence that hints otherwise.

        I was interested to read your tumblr post, although I don’t agree with your understanding of the burden of proof: for one, you can only ever, scientifically, establish a negative proof. Obtaining a conviction or creating a positive proof is usually about building a case that fits the available facts. Reasonable doubt of a case sees a defendant acquitted: the possibility of doubt is not sufficient in itself.

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      actually that was the second interview. there is another video floating around, the first interview she did, in which she said it was specifically because she used the woman’s bathroom. i’ll try to find the link.

      also the guy who filmed it said the girls kept saying “there’s a man in the women’s bathroom”

      it is VERY clear that is what it was about

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    I can’t imagine what type of person you would have to be to not only stand by and laugh at a hate crime in progress, but to also videotape the whole thing (presumably) for the entertainment value without intervening in any way. And don’t even get me started on the actual perpetrators…

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    This stuff makes me worry so hard. My brother is 16 and trans and I’m scared shitless of something like this happening to him. We’re super lucky and live in a really supportive town, the school has been fantastic, but what about when he leaves for college? Or applies for a part time job? Ugh. It’s hard enough just trying to take care of a teenager, but when it seems like the whole effin world is against him, it makes me want to follow him around forever even though I know I can’t feasibly do that.

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      not trying to play down any violence against trans men because i am in fact a trans man myself, but something like 90% of trans related violence is against trans women, not trans men. this is what transmisogyny is all about.

      in my own life, i have never experienced any violence nor have any of my trans guy friends but almost all of my mtf friends have had some sort of violence against them (whether verbal harassment or physical)

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    This story is horrific no matter the motive. I do question why the employee who filmed the attack was fired first. The motives could have been for entertainment value, but I feel like McDonald’s would be less concerned with that aspect and more concerned that there is now video footage of this occurring in their restaurant.

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    This makes me physically sick regardless of whether or not it was a hate crime (although I suspect it is). I honestly can’t understand how so many people could stand there and not only not do anything about it but also encourage it. How can you do that to another human being, especially one who did nothing wrong (not that I condone this sort of violence in cases where someone did do something wrong)? Props to the few people who did try and stop it.

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    Pena-Melnyk is the best.

    Earlier this year she campaigned for marriage rights in Maryland as well…she gave a small but very heartwarming speech to gay activists who gathered in the state legislature to support the bill.

    Essentially, she said that she has young children, and she doesn’t know if any of them will end up being gay…but if they do she wants them to live in a society where they are accepted.

    She’s the first politician I’ve talked to who I really like…if you live in her district support her, and I hope to one day see her run for the federal legislature!

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    I’m hysterical, I’m crying and want to be sick. This. Is. UNACCEPTABLE. OH my god It’s not fair it’s not fair it’s not fair!! My heart is breaking.

    *IF* the act of violence was because the attacker’s boyfriend was hitting on her, Really had she not been trans, do you think that a) the girl would even go to such lengths to attack her? Wouldn’t you think she’d be more angry at her boyfriend? b) If Chrissy hadn’t been trans, I’m 99% sure, people wouldn’t let the bashing go on. Especially in a public place like this!!

    The fact of the matter is, the situation escalated to this level because of her gender identity.

    I hate people.. I’m protesting against people. People are assholes

    SO many feelings, I can’t even.

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      I do think this should probably be considered a hate crime regardless of how it started. However, I went to a high school where fights were frequent entertainment. You would think she’d be more upset with her boyfriend. That would be logical. I’ve seen girls bad mouth, curse, threaten, and beat the crap out of other girls over their boyfriends – even if he started it. It’s complete and total bullshit, but it happens – often.

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    that video was the most fucking awful awful thing i have seen. literally crying. wasnt expecting it to ruin my day but… it has. fuck. i mean shit. i hope they rot in jail

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    This thread from a forum I frequent brought up some interesting points in defense of all the people who just watched: http://www.smackjeeves.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=26&t=8214

    Basically, the bystanders most likely did not help as a result of the bystander effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bystander_effect). The McDonald employees were also by no means obligated to intervene with the fight, at least legally. In fact, for situations like this they are trained to just call the cops and not get involved. (Whether or not they are morally obligated to intervene on the other hand, is a whole ‘nother matter.)

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      Just to clarify, the employees at McDonalds didn’t just watch, they laughed, at some points cheered on the attackers, warned the attackers the cops were coming and didn’t lock the front door as the attackers initially left, allowing them to return and beat Ms. Polis even more. Moreover, the 18-year old attacker had beaten a different woman at that same McDonalds a year ago (a mother of 2) yet was evidently allowed back in even though she had a known history of violence. That is NOT the same as being a passive bystander or not getting involved.

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      Look at that shit. I’m glad she stood her ground. And the security guy making shit up as he goes: you need to have an ID to enter a bathroom, it is against the law to go in a “wrong” bathroom, etc.

      I fucking hate public bathrooms. Other gays cannot necessarily be trusted about it. Some will give you the same rigamarole, including at gay bars. I am taking a piss. Mind your business, and I am not obligated to answer any of your questions. And I don’t care who goes in the bathroom I’m in. As long as they aren’t filthy and don’t do anything wrong to me, what the hell do I care?

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