Vicious Beating of Woman Tragically Illustrates Restroom Safety Issues for Transgender People

Today, EqualityMaine and the Center for Preventing Hate are calling attention to the savage attack on a 22-year-old woman in a Baltimore County, Maryland, McDonald’s restaurant to express sympathy and solidarity with the victim and because, as the Maine Legislature considers legislation to restrict appropriate restroom use for transgender people, this crime tragically illustrates the harassment and violence transgender often face when accessing public bathrooms.

On April 18, Chrissy Lee Polis was viciously attacked by two teenagers as she entered the women’s bathroom at McDonald’s, after her attackers recognized Chrissy is transgender. Polis was dragged across the floor by her hair and repeatedly kicked and punched to the point where she had a seizure, while employees and others looked on. The brutal attack lasted more than three minutes, until another patron intervened. It was filmed by a restaurant employee – who can be heard laughing and urging the assailants to leave before the police arrive –  and became international news a week later when the video went viral on the internet. An 18-year-old woman and a 14-year-old girl have been arrested and charged in the attack, which is being investigated as a hate crime. Polis was treated at a hospital for her injuries.

The attack happened less than a week after the Maryland Senate rejected a transgender non-discrimination bill that had previously passed in the House.

“Our thoughts, prayers and sympathy go out to Chrissy Lee Polis, and we are thankful she has physically recovered from this vicious, senseless beating. That someone could be so violently attacked for simply trying to use a restroom in a fast food restaurant is incomprehensible,” said Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine. “This is not an isolated incident. Violence and harassment – or the fear of such harm – is a daily reality for transgender Americans as they go about the most mundane daily activities like walking down the street or eating at a restaurant, which the vast majority of others do without constantly worrying about their physical safety.”

“As our legislature considers LD 1046, which would repeal existing protections in the Maine Human Rights Act to restrict access to public restrooms for transgender people, EqualityMaine calls on lawmakers to carefully consider the fact that transgender people are vulnerable to violent crime and harassment, especially when they’re not protected under law,” Smith added. “Our laws shouldn’t further stigmatize and marginalize transgender people, who are precisely the people most at risk for discrimination and prejudice.”

“Laws and language help shape our social and cultural climate. Our legislature should not open the door to the type of hate violence Chrissy Lee Polis endured by passing LD 1046,” said Steve Wessler, executive director of the Center for Preventing Hate. “Non-discrimination laws send the message that discrimination is wrong and shouldn’t be the norm. Creating an exemption from the law for bathrooms threatens to undermine all of the protections in our Human Rights Act by sending the message that it is acceptable to discriminate against transgender people.

“My heart goes out to Chrissy Lee Polis, her family and the entire Maryland transgender community for what they have been through,” Wessler added.