Give it a rest

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday May 4, 2011
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(Illustration: Christine Smith)
(Illustration: Christine Smith)

Chrissy Lee Polis, a 22-year-old, post-operative transsexual, was at a Baltimore County McDonald's in Maryland recently. While there, she opted to use the bathroom. Two other women â€" identified as Teonna Monae Brown, 18, and a 14-year-old whose name has not been released â€" were also there. A now-former employee of the fast food restaurant recorded what followed.

In the video, Polis is beaten and kicked by the pair, eventually dragged by her hair, and even suffered a head blow that appeared to trigger a seizure. She's been afraid to be seen in public since the attack. She's further concerned that the video â€" which went viral on the Internet â€" would affect her chances for employment, or be the root of further violence against her.

While the attack itself is appalling, and the alleged actions of Brown and her juvenile friend are reprehensible, it's also worth noting the reaction of McDonald's co-workers. Some are seen on the video, standing idly by, watching the melee.

The employee who filmed the assault, identified as Vernon Hackett, did not do it to provide it to the police, mind you. He shared it on YouTube, adding from his Twitter page, "That Was A Man...He Was Dressed Lik (sic) A Woman...And He Was In The Females Bathroom Knowing He Was A Man...And When Told To Get Out The (sic) ladies Bathroom He Go Smart With Everybody So Tha (sic) Two Girls Beat Him Up." The misgendering of Polis is presented as it was written.

Hackett has been terminated, and other actions are being taken at the restaurant in question. McDonald's itself has released a corporate statement on the incident, "There's no room for violence under the golden arches." Both her attackers will face their day in front of a judge, and Polis may eventually see justice.

The attack on Polis followed by weeks the political maneuvering in the Maryland legislature that saw House Bill 235 â€" a transgender rights bill â€" killed. The bill was widely criticized in transgender circles for its removal of public accommodation language. Even with the removal of such language â€" presumably to help in its passage â€" the bill was tossed back to committee, essentially ending it for the year.

This language would have, of course, included the ability for transgender people to use the restroom of choice in, say, a fast food restaurant. It would not, of course, have stopped this attack from happening â€" but it would have provided a lot more leverage for Polis's case against the restaurant in question and, perhaps, might have served to make for a safer environment for transgender people in Maryland overall.

I've written about the "bathroom bill" meme a lot lately. It is a fabrication of many so-called family groups, professing that allowing transwomen to use women's restrooms will allow mustache-twirling villains access to them, where they'll be free under the law to assault your wife and children. Never mind that any such people would still be   committing a crime by assaulting another human being, and they would still not be allowed in opposite gender restrooms. Logic need not apply in arguments based purely on emotional reactions.

Of course, such opposition may well be a thinly veiled way of saying, "We don't like their kind," as we saw with Maryland Senate President Mike Miller (D), on Maryland Public Television's State Circle program, "I have senators that are not going to hire ... people with male sexual organs who wear a dress to serve as receptionists, okay? Umm, and so if they're not going to do it, so if the senators and House members themselves wouldn't hire someone in that category, how can we say to constituents that you've got to do this?"

Miller's focused on the genitals present under one's dress, and expects that his constituents are as well. Even if, like Polis, those genitals have been surgically reconstructed to best resemble those of other women â€" not, of course, that one needs reconstruction to be a woman or a man in the first place.

For this, HB 235 was defeated.

Meanwhile the fight over transgender rights is heating up in Connecticut over yet another bill smeared as a "bathroom bill" by the right, claiming that it will somehow allow predators access to our families. The same tired arguments seem to apply.

In Maine, a fight is brewing over LD 1046, which would remove the state's already-existing transgender public accommodation rights â€" again citing bathroom use. The bill would limit access to sex-segregated public facilities based solely on "biological sex."

For Polis, the assault was not at the hand of some male assailant somehow emboldened by transgender people being given the right to use gender presentation appropriate facilities, but was from those of her own gender. While she was attacked, those whose job it was to provide a safe, friendly place to consume Big Macs and Filet-O-Fish sandwiches stood back and let it happen, or trained their camera phone on the action while tweeting ill-informed, transphobic slurs.

If the opposition to so-called bathroom bills is truly focused on protecting people from assaults, then there is no example better than Polis to point out why transgender people also need to be protected from assaults and other discrimination while using a  restroom or other public accommodations. If you are looking for people to protect, you need not look any farther than her.

People like me and Polis simply want a safe place to go to the bathroom. It really should not be that difficult to understand.

Gwen Smith deserves a break today. You can find her on the web at