Woman brutally beaten for using women’s toilet in fast-food restaurant

// 23 April 2011

Tags: , , ,

Trigger warning: violence against trans women

Restroom panic, sometimes also known as bathroom panic; the terms mean the same. They refer to the sense of moral outrage and indignation experienced by some cis people on realising that trans people (generally trans women) use the same public toilets as they do. It’s an irrational fear grounded in the transphobic notion that trans women, regardless of our legal, medical or surgical status should be denied access to restrooms consistent with our gender presentation.

Too often the reasoning behind this idea seems to be that we will assault cis women if we’re not kept out of public toilets. Yet no proponent of this cissexist justification has ever come up with irrefutable proof – court case reports, police records, press reports, just one thing – to show that even one trans woman has ever attacked or otherwise assaulted a cis woman in one of “their” restrooms. Quite the reverse, in fact: there have been numerous instances of trans women being harassed and assaulted by cis people in public conveniences without fear of reprisal.

The latest manifestation of this ciscentric hysteria reached new depths last Monday, 18 April, in a McDonald’s restaurant in Baltimore with a vicious assault being captured on cellphone video:

The video shows two women — one of them a 14-year-old girl — repeatedly kicking and punching the 22-year-old victim in the head, as an employee of the Rosedale restaurant and a patron try to intervene. Others can be heard laughing, and men are seen standing idly by.

Toward the end of the video, one of the suspects lands a punishing blow to the victim’s head, and she appears to have a seizure. A man’s voice tells the women to run because police are coming. [Baltimore Sun]

Trigger warning: Here is a link to the video of the attack [YouTube]

As far as I know, the victim is still in hospital, where she was taken after the attack, and no update has yet been issued regarding her condition.

I have seen numerous commentaries online (Google News) and two themes are emerging. First, that the attack was motivated by race (the victim is white, her attackers are black). In my opinion, this is reverse racism and has no place in any discussion of this attack. In addition, it overlooks the fact that one of the attackers is herself quoted as saying that the fight was “over using a bathroom.” (Baltimore Sun). Finally, it ignores the published statistics showing that over 70% of transphobic violence is against women of colour (WoC). (Trans Murder Monitoring project) In that context, this attack is an exception to the norm – not that that makes it any better.

The second emerging commentary seems to be a call for the dismissal of the restaurant staff for failing to step in and stop the attack. In my view, this is a kneejerk reaction and I wonder what practical benefit it would have. Disciplinary action should certainly be taken by McDonalds but let’s not forget that any of the other customers could have intervened. One did, eventually – and another recorded the now viral cellphone video. So what action should be taken against those customers? It seems to me that education on trans issues should be a priority here, in the hope that the seeds of attitudinal change can be planted.

I believe it’s time to stop centring cis women’s unfounded concerns above the safety of trans women. Like it or not, trans women are women and, as such, we have as much right as any other woman not to be brutally assaulted when using public toilets.

————

ETA: Via The Baltimore Sun:

A Baltimore County McDonald’s owner announced on Saturday afternoon that an employee who taped the violent beating of a customer — a video that went viral Friday — had been fired.

My first and foremost concern is with the victim,” franchise owner Mitchell McPherson said in a statement, adding that action might be taken against other restaurant workers as well. “I’m as shocked and disturbed by this assault as anyone would be. The behavior displayed in the video is unfathomable and reprehensible.”

I’m still not convinced that dismissal of the employee is the ideal solution. This employee will presumably have to be replaced – and who’s to say his replacement will be any more enlightened? I still think that education of the staff should be (should have been?) a priority. And then there’s the matter of the customers who just stood by…

————

ETA: Via The Baltimore Sun [link updated, 25 April]:

Chrissy Lee Polis - image via GayNZA transgender woman beaten at a Baltimore County McDonald’s spoke out on Saturday, saying that the attack was “definitely a hate crime” and that she’s been afraid to go out in public ever since.

“They said, ‘That’s a dude, that’s a dude and she’s in the female bathroom,’ ” said Chrissy Lee Polis, 22, who said she stopped at the Rosedale restaurant to use the restroom. “They spit in my face.”

[…]

“I knew they were taping me; I told the guy to stop,” said Polis, a resident of Baltimore. “They didn’t help me. They didn’t do nothing for me.”

[…] Police said the 14-year-old girl has been charged as a juvenile, while charges were pending against an 18-year-old woman. Reached Saturday, police officials said the investigation was continuing.

————

ETA, 25 April: Via Reuters:

Chrissy Polis - image via TMRzoo[…] Baltimore County prosecutors will consider this week whether to prosecute the attack as a hate crime, which carries stiffer penalties than an assault charge, authorities said.

McDonald’s confirmed it fired Vernon Hackett, 22, an employee who was believed to have filmed the incident and posted it on YouTube.

————

ETA, 25 April: Via The Baltimore Sun:

Baltimore County police have named the 18-year-old charged with beating a transgender woman at Rosedale McDonald’s, amid demands from some community members that the incident be investigated as a hate crime.

Teonna Monae Brown of the 2000 block of Kelbourne Road in Rosedale was charged in the attack on Chrissy Lee Polis. […]

Brown, who was arrested Friday, has been charged with one count of first-degree assault and two counts of second-degree assault. She remains at the Baltimore County Detention Center on $150,000 bond.

Comments From You

Loplop // Posted 23 April 2011 at 3:16 pm

This is really shocking – thanks so much for drawing this to our attention. As a cis woman, I certainly have no problem sharing toilet facilities with transwomen. It’s definitely time to start planting the seeds of change – but how can we go about doing that? Real question that I would love to know the answer to.

Louise // Posted 24 April 2011 at 2:55 am

Obviously, the behaviour of these too girls was abhorrent, but I think the wider don’t think the “Women’s” bathroom really means women. I think we just label it that way because the label “Bathroom providing sanitary facilities for use by people not in possession of phalloi” is a little too direct for our culture. Designated bathrooms aren’t about gender, they’re about dividing people based on what business needs to be taken care of and protecting the unarmed from the armed.

Helen G // Posted 24 April 2011 at 10:02 am

Louise:

“Designated bathrooms aren’t about gender, they’re about dividing people based on what business needs to be taken care of […]”

But this is the problem: that division just continues the status quo of placing binary identified cis people’s comfort above the safety of everybody else who doesn’t meet that standard – and it’s exactly that, in my opinion, which most needs to change.

“[…] protecting the unarmed from the armed”

Seriously? Why should anybody need to be armed in order to use a restroom in a fast-food restaurant (or any public restroom, for that matter)? That seems like a disproportionate and extreme reaction to me. Should the victim of this attack be thankful that her attackers weren’t armed – even though she was still beaten and kicked to the point of having a seizure and ending up in hospital?

Joanne // Posted 24 April 2011 at 10:27 am

I believe the business women and men attend to in the bathroom is essentially the same?! But as I have only ever experienced being a woman, perhaps somebody enlighten me on what different business men or male-bodied people do in there? That’s what Louise is suggesting. The mysteries of the male body, eh?

Seriously I can’t believe this is still up for debate. Trans people suffer horrible violence and even here people want to justify the violence. I hope for a speedy physical and emotional recovery for the victim.

Louise18 // Posted 24 April 2011 at 3:42 pm

Well, what have traditionally been labelled “women’s” facilities offer sanitary products, and are sometimes used for breastfeeding/expressing milk necessarily involving exposure of the breasts. Obviously it is now the case that some men will have periods and will need to use those facilities, and should be able to, notwithstanding the fact that they are men.

I think you misunderstood what I meant by “armed”. What I meant by armed was that they have a penis, which is a potential weapon. The idea of having all people with such a weapon use the same bathroom seems obviously appealing to me partly because men are expected to get them out in front of each other, and that is acceptable because and only because everyone “has the same” so to speak, and partly because it generates a feeling of safety for those who don’t possess such a weapon (including trans women who have undergone gender reassignment surgery).

Gender isn’t about genitals. Toilets are. The question is how we can culturally police people’s use of toilets now that we don’t know what people have between their legs just by looking at them. I think the answer is probably going to be changing toilets altogether so that there aren’t any communal areas and each cubicle is a whole separate cupboard (as disabled toilets are) which opens onto the general public space.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 24 April 2011 at 7:02 pm

armed with a penis i suppose is meant? well, in a womans bathroom, we use cubicles anyway, so that attitude is even less warranted than it otherwise would be. a FtM using a men’s bathroom i suppose knows of any risks when they use it, but thats less of a reason to fear the transgendered individual.

Helen G // Posted 24 April 2011 at 7:09 pm

Louise:

I don’t understand what points you’re making about either sanitary products or breastfeeding, or how they are relevant to the attack on Ms Polis by two cis women.

As regards your assertion that all people with penises are “armed”, although it may perhaps be a discussion worth having elsewhere, I do not think this thread is the appropriate place for that debate.

While I’m broadly in agreement with your proposition that the layouts of public toilets may need to be rethought, I also think it is incumbent on cis people to educate themselves sufficiently about trans people that they no longer consider it either necessary or acceptable to place their comfort above our safety, and to enforce those views with physical violence.

Deya // Posted 24 April 2011 at 8:11 pm

Transphobia is wrong and irrational. A woman fearing that another woman who has a penis will rape her in the bathroom is wrong and irrational. A woman fearing that a man with a penis will rape her in the bathroom is wrong, but she is most definitely not irrational. Women and men without a penis fear those who have a penis, very rationally, because of the epidemic prevalence of violence carried out by cis men. It is devastatingly sad that trans women are bearing the brunt of this fear.

I am fully on board with pretty much all of your article, Helen G, and agree that trans women should use women’s public facilities as and when they want to without fearing violence.

How truly truly awful that the source of all these cycles of fear is actually the group known as cis men.

Helen G // Posted 24 April 2011 at 8:52 pm

Deya:

How truly truly awful that the source of all these cycles of fear is actually the group known as cis men.

As far as the examples you give in your first paragraph, I tend to agree with you. But this assault also demonstrates that trans women may have as much reason to be as wary of cis women as cis men.

And I believe that is an issue that, as feminists, we (trans and cis women) also need to address.

Louise N // Posted 24 April 2011 at 10:02 pm

Louise18:

Thinking that a trans women comes into the toilet ‘armed’ shows a huge lack of understanding of the reality of trans women’s genitals. Trans women who have penis’ have a completely different relationship to them to cis males. The thought of using a piece of our bodies we are at best uncomfortable with and at worst something that we would physically remove by any means possible is absurd. Also after some time most trans people on HRT loose the ability to get erections anyway and we also loose most of our physical strength making us unable to even defend ourselves.

It’s the ignorance of trans peoples bodies and dehumanising of us that causes attacks like this.

How is it right to be focusing on us when we are the ones who are scared every time we have to use the toilet in public and fear attacks like this every day of our lives.

Helen G // Posted 24 April 2011 at 10:16 pm

Mod note: I have to say I’m concerned by the constant focus on people’s genital configurations, trans people in particular. Our bodies are so often objectified by what, in my opinion, is nothing less than a sensationalist reduction to our body parts. I think it’s one of the effects of living in a phallocentric society – but the practical outcome is the misguided belief that, to quote Julia Serano, the mere presence of a penis can trump the femaleness of our identities, our personalities, and the rest of our bodies. (Source)

It seems to me that, in the context of this post, discussion of trans women’s genitalia is a derail and I’d be grateful if we could move the discussion onto more relevant matters.

Louise N // Posted 25 April 2011 at 9:50 am

The thing that makes me so angry and upset about this is that the only things rare about it are it’s severity and the fact it was caught on camera. Early in transition I experienced an incident similar to this and the only reason it didn’t turn into violence was that I had an ally with me.

maggie // Posted 25 April 2011 at 12:22 pm

Whilst I abhorr all violence I feel that the reason this violence started is incorrect. The woman wasn’t allowed to enter the restroom because she had to order something first. I’ve been denied access to toilets before but in the UK this is no longer allowed. I’ve no idea what the law is like in USA, probably different in every state. Also I thought the reason for the attack was that one of women thought the victim was looking at her man (rolls eyes that women even do this shit). From what I can gather it wasn’t because she was trans – or have I missed something?

Having corrected that I still feel the attack was abhorrent. To film it and laugh says much about the hateful misogyny involved as well.

Helen G // Posted 25 April 2011 at 12:50 pm

maggie:

The woman wasn’t allowed to enter the restroom because she had to order something first.

I haven’t seen it stated that explicitly and although The Baltimore Sun reported that Ms Polis stopped at the Rosedale restaurant to use the restroom, it’s not clear if she’d ordered anything. But even if the restaurant’s policy is that food must be purchased in order to be allowed to use the toilets, I’m surprised that the enforcement of that rule wasn’t carried out by the staff, not its customers. And in any event, using physical violence to enforce it seems like an extreme overreaction to me.

Also I thought the reason for the attack was that one of women thought the victim was looking at her man (rolls eyes that women even do this shit). From what I can gather it wasn’t because she was trans – or have I missed something?

I haven’t heard that but if so, I’ll be rolling my eyes, too. As for her being trans not being the reason for the attack, Ms Polis is quoted in the same The Baltimore Sun report as saying:

“They said, ‘That’s a dude, that’s a dude and she’s in the female bathroom,’ ” said Chrissy Lee Polis, 22, who said she stopped at the Rosedale restaurant to use the restroom. “They spit in my face.”

The latest update I’ve seen – again via The Baltimore Sun – says that both the attackers have now been charged, so I guess we’ll hear their sides of the story when the case comes to court.

Kit // Posted 25 April 2011 at 2:44 pm

I’m not sure if this is still relevant given info in one of the edits, but there’s a petition online to hold the employees involved accountable.

IDK, I think public toilets would be fine if they weren’t separate based on sex/gender but offered way more privacy for everyone. Perhaps that way everyone (regardless whether their fear of safety from other people is real & reasonable or not) would feel better about who is using the restroom with them?

Helen G // Posted 25 April 2011 at 3:02 pm

Thanks Kit.

For anyone who wants to add their name, the petition is online at change .org and, as I write this, is just short of 30,000 signatures.

Additionally, for anyone in the area who wishes to attend, a candlelight vigil is scheduled to take place at the McDonald’s (6315 Kenwood Avenue, Rosedale, Baltimore) at 7pm EDT this evening.

Agreed, redesigning the layouts of public toilets to offer more privacy might be a useful starting point, although I do still think education and acceptance are also important steps on the path to breaking down anti-trans bigotry and hatred.

Deya // Posted 25 April 2011 at 5:58 pm

Just signed the petition.

“But this assault also demonstrates that trans women may have as much reason to be as wary of cis women as cis men.”

This part is tremendously sad.

In a sort-of parallel circumstance, my cousin, at the age of 15, was attacked by three women who were aged 15-20 years. It was a racist assault – my cousin is brown, her attackers were white. Twelve years later she still has flashbacks. Despite these awful, horrible instances of women hurting other women, I still feel that it is male at birth men as a group who continue to cause the most damage, systematically and accumulated and reinforced throughout the centuries, to every other creature on the planet, and so my “community”, other brown women like me, should be way more mistrustful of men than of white women. I can’t even speak for all other brown women, much less speculate on how trans women may react, but it will be a sad state of affairs if cis women are perceived as equivalent oppressors to cis men.

Louise // Posted 25 April 2011 at 9:23 pm

In regard to the youtube video. I haven’t watched it and would rather not watch someone being beaten up, so forgive me if I am asking questions which would be obvious, but is the video obviously intended to humiliate the girl, or was it intended to identify and shame the perpatrators publicly (as well as help with identification and conviction), because I can see how that might have been a sensible thing to do, as it would secure a conviction and publicise the problem and the person might not have felt physically able to intervene.

I also don’t think it makes sense to say that the customers ought to have intervened. Even assuming they have the physical strength to be confident of not getting hurt themselves, going beyond “reasonable force” could get you a criminal record yourself, or sacked and that can be a difficult thing to judge *in the moment*.

Louise // Posted 25 April 2011 at 9:26 pm

Just read the info in the link-obviously those employees shouting encouragement should be sacked, and potentially prosecuted under incitement laws.

Helen G // Posted 25 April 2011 at 10:17 pm

Louise:

Listening to the soundtrack of the video, Vernon Hackett clearly found the assault highly entertaining and, a short time later, posted it to his Facebook account so the rest of the world could share his amusement. His (now deleted) comments on his Facebook page misgendered Ms Polis, and alleged her seizure was “a fake”. If he had intended to show any public spirit, perhaps he would have kept his opinions to himself and handed the video over to the police instead of posting it online. I will go a step further and say that, if he had intended to show any public spirit, recording the assault would not have been his first reaction; instead he would have intervened to break it up.

I also don’t think it makes sense to say that the customers ought to have intervened. Even assuming they have the physical strength to be confident of not getting hurt themselves, going beyond “reasonable force” could get you a criminal record yourself, or sacked and that can be a difficult thing to judge *in the moment*.

This is all well and good, but the fact remains that it was a customer who intervened: this is shown in the video.

The bottom line remains that Ms Polis should never have been attacked in the first place, full stop. If the restaurant’s policy is that people should spend money before they can use the facilities, and if Ms Polis was in breach of that house rule (as per earlier comments in this thread), then it should have been up to the staff to resolve the issue without resorting to violence or hate speech.

Just read the info in the link-obviously those employees shouting encouragement should be sacked, and potentially prosecuted under incitement laws.

As I said in my original post, I’m not convinced that just sacking the individuals is the right solution. I apologise for repeating myself, but I do think that education and a paradigm shift in attitudes towards trans people in general are required. We are not invaders from another planet hellbent on world domination, we are simply human beings too, just like cis people, and I don’t know if I will ever understand why so many cis people seem to want us mandated out of existence by means of extreme physical violence. The power to change things for the better is, as it has always been, in the hands of cis people.

paul kelly // Posted 26 April 2011 at 11:44 am

im just asking a question (i dont have an opinion one way or the other on this.

should the law change so that trans people can openly use womens toilets? Surely shouldnt it be up to cis women? If cis women feel uncomfortable with trans people using their loos shouldnt they have a say?

Helen G // Posted 26 April 2011 at 12:47 pm

paul kelly:

should the law change so that trans people can openly use womens toilets?

First of all, I’m not aware that it’s illegal for trans women to use cis women’s toilets – and even if it was illegal, how do you imagine it could be enforced?

I would certainly welcome a change in the law to clarify that we have as much right as any cis person to use public facilities without fear of reprisal. And I think anti-discrimination legislation which includes gender identity would be a big step forward – but I don’t believe that legislation on its own is enough.

As I’ve said elsewhere in this thread, I honestly believe that education and attitudinal changes are equally important. I’m not convinced that anti-trans prejudice, discrimination and bigotry can be legislated out of existence. That doesn’t mean I think there’s no place for anti-discrimination laws to offer protection for trans people; quite the reverse – but I see it only as a starting point.

Surely shouldnt it be up to cis women?

I can’t think of a single good reason why it should. Can you?

If cis women feel uncomfortable with trans people using their loos shouldnt they have a say?

The key word there is uncomfortable. I know I’m repeating myself here, so apologies for that, but your framing of the question continues the tradition of positioning cis women’s comfort above our safety. Really, if anyone has reason to feel uncomfortable – in addition to feeling unsafe – I think it’s probably trans women, as this assault demonstrates

Feminist Avatar // Posted 26 April 2011 at 1:47 pm

It strikes me that this comment thread is a good demonstration of why trans people, rape victims and many other social groups have difficulty getting successful prosecutions in court.

In this case, a woman was beaten to death by two other women. Under what circumstances is this acceptable? If there are any circumstances where it is acceptable to beat someone to death – and they are surely very rare indeed – this is not one of them.

Instead, this has turned into a conversation about the use and policing of toilet space. And, ultimately what this can lead to is that the question that comes to be the centre of discussion (or trial) is not whether it is ok to murder somebody, but whether trans people should get to use public toilets (or whether it was against restaurant policy, or whether other people should have intervened and so are to blame, etc etc). And, what a jury will end up voting on, is not whether this murder was a heinous crime, but whether they think it was acceptable for the victim to use the women’s fucking toilets.

Helen G // Posted 26 April 2011 at 2:00 pm

Feminist Avatar:

Yes, exactly. Well said. But such are the joys of being a blogger who finds herself in a marginalised minority, I have found.

On so many levels, history repeats itself. Sadly…

And on that dispiriting note, I’m probably going to close comments on this thread later today (I’m writing this at around 2pm Tuesday) – it’s been a much bigger drain on my energy than I anticipated and I’m not sure there’s much left to add – but if there are any other points people would like to make, sometime in the next couple of hours would be a good time.

maggie // Posted 26 April 2011 at 2:34 pm

Feminist avatar

There was no murder or anyone beaten to death. The victim went to the toilet (female) but was set upon not because of trans issues but because of a spurious claim that some girls boyfriend had been chatted up or given the eye.

I think the f word should be careful not to allow such inaccuracies to stand without correction. All sorts of nasty racist, sexist and sizeist comments have been said about this. Certainly violence is never to be condoned.

Helen G // Posted 26 April 2011 at 2:53 pm

maggie:

The victim […] was set upon not because of trans issues but because of a spurious claim that some girls boyfriend had been chatted up or given the eye.

Do you have a source for this, please? As I said in our earlier conversation, Ms Polis seems to think it was a trans issue and Mr Hackett seemed to think the same. And as far as I know, neither of the attackers, nor McDonald’s, nor the police have contradicted that.

I think the f word should be careful not to allow such inaccuracies to stand without correction.

Thank you for the correction.

All sorts of nasty racist, sexist and sizeist comments have been said about this.

Agreed about the racist and sexist comments; not sure what sizeist comments have been made; and I would also add transphobic and ciscentric comments to the list.

saranga // Posted 26 April 2011 at 4:18 pm

I’d just like to add my agreement to Feminist Avatar’s and Helen G’s comments.

Not enough other comments have got through stating the their points, and I think there should be more.

A woman was brutally beaten and killed, and that is incredibly fucking wrong.

This shouldn’t be a discussion about who gets to use public toilets, because murder is not an acceptable punishment for *anything*, let alone daring to be trans in public.

polly // Posted 26 April 2011 at 5:17 pm

Feminist Avatar: Surely the reason the thread has “turned into” a conversation about the use and policing of toilet space is that that is what it was initially posited as by Helen G?

Which seems to me something of a non sequitur, to say the least. The fact that someone objects to someone using a toilet is nothing to do with them then beating that person up. If I objected to someone doing something, I would probably either confront them myself(if it was safe to do so) or otherwise seek help. I wouldn’t beat them up. People beat people up because they see violence as a solution to anything that angers them. That’s the problem.

And with respect, there are some trans women in prison for the rape and murder of women. And women (and men of course) do get attacked/raped/murdered in public lavatories. So whether or not the fear is a reasonable one taking into account all the circumstances, it’s not based on something that could never happen in reality.

To say other customers should have intervened and that action should taken against them for not doing so also seems somewhat irrational to me – they would then be risking their own safety. Although I would ring the police in such circumstances, there have been situations where I’ve seen somebody beating somebody else up, and I’ve certainly not intervened physically. Unfortunately, people who have done so in the past have often ended up dead or wounded themselves.

Helen G // Posted 26 April 2011 at 5:22 pm

saranga:

Just to reconfirm that Ms Polis did not die in the assault.

Helen G // Posted 26 April 2011 at 6:02 pm

paul kelly:

Your comment will not be posted here because it’s in breach of The F-Word bloggers’ position on transphobia and cissexism.

Helen G // Posted 26 April 2011 at 7:00 pm

Mod note:

Comments are now closed. Thanks for your contributions everyone.

Helen

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