Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bathroom Politics and Chrissy Lee Polis

Originally published in the BG News Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Photo by AdamL212

Last week’s “Rainbow Days,” a University celebration honoring LGBT persons on campus, were fun-filled and action-packed.  A visit from the hilarious Bryan Safi of Infomania’s “That’s Gay,” Delta Lambda Phi’s incredible drag show and the always awesome Queer Prom were among a plethora of events that had everyone tasting the rainbow like a bag of skittles.
Last week was also pretty lively for LGBT news. 
As California fought to include queer activism in the state’s history books and Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he would channel defense money into the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act, a YouTube video of a trans woman being attacked in a fast food restaurant went viral.  
And as the footage revealed; no one would help her.
“Everybody in that McDonalds sat there and watched me get hurt,” Chrissy Lee Polis, 22, told ABC News.
One employee filmed the incident, laughing as 18 year old Teonna Monae Brown and her 14 year old accomplis savagely beat Polis.  The confrontation started in the restroom and the aftermath lasted over 5 minutes. The video showed the victim being dragged across the floor by her hair, repeatedly punched and kicked near a trash can until she had a seizure.
Polis recalls the women yelling “that’s a dude and she’s in the female bathroom” and spitting in her face.  She was fully aware witnesses were filming rather than assisting her.  One employee even warned the attackers to run before the police came, holding the door open for them.
But the assailants were arrested and brought to justice.  Both women were charged with one count of first degree assault and two counts of second degree assault; an additional count for striking Vicky Thomas, 55, the only person who attempted to step in.
Thomas attended the rally held outside the same McDonalds in Maryland where she admitted she didn’t know Polis was a trans woman, but felt her gender identity was irrelevant because no one should be subjected to the violence Polis endured.
Despite her many supporters, Polis is afraid to leave her house since the ordeal.
McDonalds fired the man responsible for the sickening video and said “There’s no room for violence under the golden arches and we strongly condemn this brutal assault” in an official statement.  But no further action has been taken against the manager or other employees who stood idly by, even though the video clearly depicts McDonalds personnel encouraging the fight.
Despite the company’s insistence they are “doing everything possible to make sure the right thing is done,” McDonalds doesn’t appear to “share their customers’ concern.”  Feeling this limited action is unacceptable, Change.org has responded with an internet petition demanding all employees on duty be terminated because of their despicable behavior. 
People are outraged, signing the petition and demanding what happened in the town of Rosedale on April 18 be treated as a hate crime.  And several advocates are taking this opportunity to address the marginalization of the trans community.
Maryland’s anti-discrimination legislation, House Bill 235, hoping to protect transgender persons in the areas of employment, housing and credit, died in the Senate earlier this year.  State Senate President Mike Miller called the bill “anti-family.”
Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk, the lead sponsor of the bill, insisted it was more about civil rights than endangering families.  Had the bill passed, it would have “raised public awareness of the issue and paved the way for complete protection for Maryland’s transgender population."  
In the midst of this tragedy, and Maryland’s political struggle, I can’t help but remember the One Bowling Green campaign.  While ordinances 7905 and 7906 offered protection for the LGBT community, as well as veterans, pregnant women, and others from housing and employment discrimination, the issues quickly became a matter of “bathroom politics.”
The opposition was obsessed with the notion of “perverts in the restrooms.”  Suddenly, ensuring citizens couldn’t be fired for their gender identity, or denied a home because of their sexuality meant the city was giving pedophiles a free pass to hang out near toilets frequented by children.  Much like reactions in Maryland, One Bowling Green was labeled “anti-family.”
But political rhetoric is predictable, compressed into quotes or sound bites for the local media.  It becomes an entirely different evil once consumed and regurgitated by the people of the city. 
During my work with the organization, I witnessed real life transphobia.  Citizens walked out of their way to avoid me.  They told me to stay away from them, as if intended to harm them with my pamphlets.  Mothers screamed they had to protect their children.  I’ll never forget the woman whose voice shook as she explained she was voting against the ordinances because she “had a daughter and had to do what was right.”  
Yet how would she feel if her own daughter grew up to fit somewhere in the LGBT acronym? 
Really, it’s not children anyone should be worried about.  Children are not being beaten to a bloody pulp in McDonalds with little to no reaction from the people around them.  The nation is in agreement that children should be safe and permitted to enjoy their happy meals in peace.  Now it’s time to extend the same protection to everyone.
To be clear, who uses which restroom is determined by social norms, not the law.  But public bathrooms are often a cause for concern for members of the trans community.  A trans woman puts herself in danger when she is forced to use the men’s room.  Apparently, she also puts herself in danger when she uses the women’s room.  And as you read these words, there’s a trans woman in Rosedale who knows she puts herself in danger every time she leaves her home. 
After witnessing what happened to Chrissy Lee Polis, it’s time to do something about it.  The United States must commit to keeping the trans community safe from discrimination and hatred.  Using a public restroom is a human right and should never be a source of anxiety for anyone.

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