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.