A few days ago a trans woman was attacked just outside of a women’s rest room at a Baltimore area McDonald’s. Two nontrans women, one of them a minor, beat her until she was curled into a fetal position on the floor, and then kicked her in her back, head, and neck. The terrible video, captured by a McDonald’s employee who did nothing to aid or defend her, was quickly posted on YouTube, whereupon some ignoble comments were added to the physical injuries already sustained. The violence lasted around 3 minutes, and the Internet erupted, all over again, with vitriol, calls for quick arrests and/or vengeance, and a whole lot of assumptions about transfolk, people of color, and the McDonald’s anti-discrimination policy.
It is, as is the case so often, a lot to sort through. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:
- I’m not going to blame the lack of public accommodations protections in Maryland for this event, because of course, having PA doesn’t prevent violence. However, having PA protections and communicating about those protections to state residents does send a message that this kind of violence isn’t tolerated. Will people still attack other people? Sure, and in watching the video, I was struck that there would be moments of abatement followed by another round of kicking and screaming. Laws wouldn’t have prevented this assault, but the lack of protections also didn’t serve anyone in this episode, either. Whatever it was that made the Maryland legislators pull PA from this year’s HB235, I hope they remember this moment when the opportunity to bring it up again next year rolls around.
- This is yet another example of how it is not transfolk who attack nontrans people in bathrooms—it’s the transgender people who are attacked. That the “men in dresses” concept is trotted out across United States jurisdictions to keep lawmakers from enacting gender identity protections is no accident; it’s simple misinformation, and it’s well over the boundary of immoral to act like there is an ounce of validity to this stance. I’ve been yelled at in bathrooms, even since before I came to see myself as transgender, because I wasn’t feminine enough for some stranger. After I began transition, I was asked not to use the men’s room during my gay bowling league nights because I made some other patron “uncomfortable.” You know what’s uncomfortable? Holding one’s bladder for 10 hours.
- Here’s a list of some well known companies that do not include gender identity or expression in their nondiscrimination policies: Exxon/Mobile, IKEA, International House of Pancakes*, Home Depot*, Williams-Sonoma*†, Peet’s Coffee, Inc.*, and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. If we’re going to boycott McDonald’s because they don’t include gender identity or expression protections in their policy, shouldn’t we also forgo our business at these other companies? Why wait for an incident to occur?
- I would pressure my colleagues and friends to find another response to this awful incident than a “throw away the key” mentality, especially as one of these assailants is 14 years old. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be held accountable, but I’m wary of giving them over to a criminal justice system that on a daily basis, does grave harm to women of color and to transgender people both. Couldn’t they learn more by having to do community service for a local trans rights or support group than stewing about in a cell? I grant that I’m a bleeding heart here, but I can’t believe this is the only option for these girls.
- I recognize that the video is traumatic to watch, but making assumptions about what did and didn’t happen based solely on blog recounting of events and media reports—which already have corrected some of their original accounting—is problematic and potentially muddies the waters of discussion. It is not the case that all of the McDonald’s employees stood by and mocked the victim. The manager attempted more than once to break up the fight. Also, a bystander came to her aid. We need to be careful about how we talk about interactions in these violent moments, because generalizations obfuscate actual behavior and make productive conversation that much more difficult. And for the sake of people trying to use public facilities of any kind—we simply have to be clear about how anger, violence, and rescue occur in these instances or we may continue to hoist insufficient or inappropriate responses to them in their aftermath.
- Although help eventually came to this woman during the moment of assault, the catcalling and harassment online afterward were riddled with transphobia and gender policing. For those of us with a longer memory of the DC/Baltimore era, this smacks of the Tyra Hunter case in which EMTs laughed so hard and so long at her trans body after Ms. Hunter was struck by a car, rather than administer care to her, that she died of her wounds. It is traumatic for many of us to see the blows actually falling and challenging to unpack the many moments of violence that we’ve experienced, witnessed, or heard about, without recoiling against this latest incident. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, violence against transgender people has been on the rise in the last several years. Why do we think we have a Transgender Day of Remembrance every year? Because we enjoy morbid parties?
- That said, identities and social positions have a role in violent encounters, but they may not be the cause. Even the victim in this attack said that the fight was over a guy, not over her trans status. Using the McDonald’s incident as a bellwether over public accommodations is tricky and loaded, especially if the survivor herself comes forward to deny such a connection. If we disregard her voice here, what effect does that have on her agency?
I’m appalled that this happened, yet again, that some people stood by and took glee in posting the beating online, reveling in the comments on YouTube. I’m glad the spontaneous cameraman has lost his job, for whatever that’s worth. I hope the survivor finds fast healing and new support. I hope the assailants grow from this experience and temper their sense of entitlement. And I dearly wish that we respond to this even in a principled way that supports each other.