Chrissy Lee Polis: A Rally for Peace

For many of us who have been following the story of Chrissy Lee Polis, the 22-year-old transgender woman who was brutally attacked in a suburban McDonald’s near Baltimore ten days ago, it’s been a difficult week. Watching the story go viral provided a sobering look at the amount of phobia and ignorance that still surrounds many people’s concepts of both gender and race.

The attack occurred on April 18th, when Polis stopped at the restaurant to use the ladies’ room. Polis told the Baltimore Sun that she heard her assailants saying “that’s a dude, that’s a dude – and he’s in the female bathroom.” Immediately afterwards, she was beaten, dragged across the floor by her hair, and kicked by two teenagers as a McDonald’s employee recorded the attack on his camera phone and other workers stood by idly. The cell phone recording of the attack (TRIGGER WARNING: extremely violent) shows several employees gawking and laughing as the attack progresses. A sole employee makes an attempt to break up the fight, but retreats almost immediately. A grandmotherly woman attempts to come to Polis’ aid; a police report revealed that she was punched in the face by one of the assailants when she tried to intervene. After two minutes, Polis collapses into a seizure on the floor. The McDonald’s worker who is taping the scene warns the attackers that they need to flee because the police are coming.

A crowd rallies outside the McDonald’s where the crime took place

Coverage of the story on the web has been as painful to watch as the footage itself. It was awful to witness the first wave of discussion, which appeared almost exclusively on white supremacist blogs, with transphobia piling on top of racism as details about Polis’ identity emerged. It was painful to watch mainstream, high-traffic blogs use the word “tranny” in their coverage (the best example of this being, if memory serves correctly, Time-Warner-owned blog Smoking Gun, though their posts appear to have now been scrubbed of the slur). And it was painful to watch Polis’ own twin brother continually refer to her as “my brother” and pointedly use male gender pronouns at her support rally (here, at 1:15). All around, a damning look at the country’s state of gender awareness, or lack thereof.

Polis has been released from the hospital, and spoke to the Baltimore Sun about her experience living as a transwoman in her neighborhood. The McDonald’s employee who filmed the attack has been fired. Both attackers have been apprehended and charged with assault. Hate crime charges may or may not be applied to the case; we’ll likely know in about a week.

In the face of the ugly, seething hatred that surrounds this story, the most encouraging element has been the turnout of support. Over 135,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the McDonald’s Corporation holds its employees accountable for the assault. More inspiring than anything have been images of the rally held at the scene of the crime this past Monday. Hundreds of people showed up outside McDonald’s to voice their solidarity with Chrissy Lee Polis. One of the right-wing hate sites covering the assault early on asked the question, “what happens when sanctified leftwing grievance groups collide over black homophobia?” In their small imagination, people can only choose one side: black vs. white, gay vs. straight, trans vs. cis. There are no gradations or complexities in their world.

Except, that’s not what the images and footage of this rally show us. There are people from all across the race, gender and class spectrum standing up for Chrissy Lee Polis. Trans activist Dayna Beyer, who helped organize the rally, recounts the event:

What was initially intended to be a vigil as the victim appeared severely injured… evolved into an upbeat rally of a united community demanding an end to violence and discrimination.

Having been involved in far too many vigils for murdered trans women over the years, and accepting the general apathy in both the trans and LGBT communities, I expected 30 people to ultimately show up. Instead, 300 did.

…when the program ended and the crowd would have normally dispersed, a funny thing happened. No one left.

People mingled for another 75 minutes until the lights were turned out in the parking lot. There had been no trouble, no counter-demonstration, no hate speech – just love and sisterhood and camaraderie. Locals and activists, gay and straight, cis and trans.

Maryland still has a long way to go. Earlier this month, the Maryland Senate voted down a bill that would have provided protection for trans people against discrimination in housing and employment. Before the bill even hit the Senate, language pertaining to use of public accommodations was stripped from it. Blogger Amanda Hess writes, “opposition to the bill largely focused on the toilet issue—a hysterical concern over gender non-conforming people sharing public restrooms.” Perhaps the tragedy of this event will push lawmakers to rethink their position.

Perhaps things will change.

Image by Anne’s Legacy Photography

6 Responses to “Chrissy Lee Polis: A Rally for Peace”

  1. Dave C Says:

    This is almost too awful to comment on. I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t aware of this incident, having been avoiding the UK media for the last week because of the wall-to-wall wedding propaganda. I just want to encourage everyone to sign the petition and share this post with as many people as possible. Big props to Coilhouse for drawing attention to this.

  2. Childbestrange Says:

    What surprised me is that, for all the wonderful solidarity that’s been shown for the victim, I haven’t read anything taking a critical look at what would cause the attackers to lash out so violently.

    I don’t pretend to know the backgrounds of the teenagers and employees, but for heaven’s sakes, there’s something going on in their lives, and not just a lack of gender education and exposure to the concept of tolerance. I would bet that they’ve seen such brutal violence before, otherwise the employees’ apathy doesn’t make sense.

    Social phobias (if gender is accepted as largely a social construction) have social roots. And in order to constructively address the problem -in this case the phobic reaction to the poor young woman who violated her attackers’ gender expectations to a degree that they lashed out so viciously- we need to look at where those teenagers got their seething hatred.

  3. Andy Says:

    I can somehow understand her brother’s inability to accept her changes. It can’t be easy being a twin and face the fact that loads of people take for granted that twins are interchangable and what goes for one of them must be true for the other. Homophobia is still quite a big issue and at 22 he might not have come to grips with his own sexuality enough to be comfortable with others (mind you, I’m NOT saying he’s gay or transgender, just that he might be threatened by the thought of what others might think of him).

  4. geozilla Says:

    I would also like to point out that in other interviews and coverage here in Maryland her brother has also referred to her as my sister and sometimes mixes up pronouns. Language is imperfect and it is a shame we have gendered pronouns at all. We shouldn’t assume that his references do not mean that he doesn’t support his sister.

  5. Andy Says:

    Haven’t seen the other coverage myself but just going by the interview that was linked I’d say there isn’t any doubt as to whether or not he supports her or not regardless of pronouns.

  6. Paula Says:

    I’m gay and crossdress, and all this sickens me, a trans guy in the uk pushed under a train, a trans girl/woman/female now beaten so bad that she has a seizure? god when are people going to grow up and move on, why can’t we all respect each other and stop the hate, that’s all of us, gay streight rightwing leftwing and in the middle, I wish sometimes a UFO landed and then the hate might be aimed at them, but then I think, that makes me just as bad as all the others.