Why I Started a Campaign After the McDonald’s Attack Video

This article is cross-posted from Change.org.

When I first saw the video, I was brought to tears.

A young woman in her early 20s, beaten as she tries to use a restroom at a McDonald’s in my home state of Maryland. Several assailants punch her, knock her to the ground, drag her across the floor by her hair, and kick her in the face until it appears she experiences a seizure.

As the video spread over the Internet on Friday – first through the blogosphere and then to mainstream press outlets – the facts on the ground became even more troubling. We learned that the video was filmed by McDonald’s employees, several of whom seemed to cheer the assault on from behind the camera. And we learned that the victim was a 22-year-old transgender woman, later identified as Chrissy Lee Polis.

That’s when it hit me: yes, this was a disturbing attack, appalling on a sheer human level for its heinous nature. But this was also a hate crime, and representative of the violence and harassment that too many transgender people face in this country when they try to access public accommodations like restrooms.

I don’t have much experience when it comes to activism, but I knew after watching this video that I had to do something. I started a petition here on Change.org, hoping to send a message to McDonald’s and Maryland authorities that both the assailants and the McDonald’s employees who enabled this violent act should be held accountable. I thought maybe 100 people would sign it.

Little did I know that more than 27,000 people would be as outraged as I was, and as committed to seeking justice for this brutal crime.

So far, the Maryland police have only charged one person in this incident. And while McDonald’s wrote over Twitter that they would “take appropriate action” against all employees involved in this outrageous attack, just one employee has been punished. That’s simply not good enough.

I am a gay man, as well as a female impersonator. Being an entertainer, I’ve been in situations where I have had to use the women’s restroom. The fear of being harassed or assaulted is never far from my mind. I watched this horrific video, and couldn’t escape the thought that this could have been me in that video.

No one should ever have to experience what Chrissy went through, and no one should ever have to worry about being assaulted just for using the restroom. Yet in this country, upwards of 50 percent of all transgender Americans experience verbal or physical abuse when trying to use accommodations like public restrooms. Chrissy’s assault was caught on camera, but imagine how many hundreds of other cases just like this go undocumented?

Please stand with me, and call on McDonalds and Maryland authorities to do the right thing and hold all those responsible for this senseless act of violence accountable. Those who sat by and watched this attack happen might as well have been the ones throwing the punches or landing the kicks. Let’s not return their silence with silence.

And for McDonald’s, let’s hope that this attack at one of their franchises underscores the importance of providing employees adequate training to confront harassment based on gender identity and gender expression. McDonald’s has a good score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, but right now McDonald’s does not include gender identity or gender expression in its anti-discrimination policies, nor do they require employees to go through diversity trainings that cover the subject of gender identity and gender expression.

That can change, and turn this tragic incident into something positive for the broader LGBT movement.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact press@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • equalist

    The most disturbing part to me was at the end, when the woman was seizing and the employee taking the video was ushering the attackers out of the restaurant, telling them that they’d better leave before the police arrived.  A proper response to the whole thing would have been for a) the manager, who apeared to attempt (though weakly) to come to the woman’s aid in the beginning when the fight first began, to have at that point ushered her into a back office area away from the attackers, and with that not occurring, to (within reason and law/company guidelines) prevent the attackers from leaving before the police arrived to handle the situation.  I’ve worked jobs before were one particular person, or group of people was often singled out for attack by others (generally based on race, but a handful of times based on either gender or gender identity), and it has ALWAYS been policy, everywhere I’ve worked where that kind of situation came up, to immediately remove the victim to a secure, protected location (back office, break room for employees, etc) until either the police arrived or until the attackers were gone.

  • beenthere72

    Any harrassment should not be tolerated.   


    Did you hear about the barn fire in Ohio that killed 8 horses?




    Brings tears to my eyes.

  • susmart3

    If you are the type of person who would feel compelled to intervene in such a situation, think about what you would do/say beforehand. Intervention is not for the faint of heart or the untrained. In many instances, the attackers would be just as happy to kick you as the original target. 

    I agree with what Equalist said: remove/protect the victim until the danger is over, meaning the attackers have left AND ARE PREVENTED FROM RETURNING. Protecting the victim is far more important than trying to ALSO detain the attackers, especially if you are alone. 

    Would also suggest using the “broken record technique” on the attackers. Short, simple words that may reach the attackers and give them a (preferred) course of action. Yell “STOP” or “GET OUT!” in a command voice (low, loud, eye contact). Mean it. Do not ask questions as “Why are you doing this?” Do not answer questions, “What’s it matter to you?” Repeat one word or phrase over and over and over. 

    * * *

    I tried forwarding this story on to fellow women self-defense teachers as an good/bad example of How Things Can Go Very Wrong Quickly and how to intervene more effectively. Found this video through a brandchannel link. (brandchannel deals with marketing/adversiting) Was prevented from forwarding the link, and it also disappeared from the list of article at the source. Don’t know who is responsible, but I suspect big corporations- McDonalds, Google, Apple- have no problem trying to delete/remove things that cast them in a bad light.



  • arekushieru

    Unfortunately, protecting the victim without attempting to detain the attackers may mean the return of the latter, when the victim is in a more vulnerable situation and with more violent methods.

  • equalist

    This may be true, but protecting the victim for the time that you are able is still better than the alternative of leaving them to their attackers at that time.