Saturday, May 07, 2011

S.A.M.E. Draws 70 to Trans Support Rally, March

Event Inspired by Horrific Beating of Chrissy Lee Polis in Baltimore


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Cecile Veillard leading the picket at McDonald’s; José Medina and Sean Bohac; Charlie Pratt; Chris; Red; “Hugs, Not Thugs”; Transgender Equality; Trans Violence

Members of the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) and All Out at City, the Queer student group at San Diego City College, staged a march and rally outside the McDonald’s on University Avenue in Hillcrest Saturday night, April 30. The action was in support of Chrissy Lee Polis, a 24-year-old male-to-female Transgender person who had been brutally beaten while attempting to use a women’s restroom in a McDonald’s in Baltimore 12 days earlier. The attack was filmed on a video-equipped cell phone by a McDonald’s employee who posted it to the Internet — where the recording went viral and shocked people nationwide with the ferocity of the violence against Polis.

The April 30 event began with a picket outside the McDonald’s by S.A.M.E. and All Out at City members carrying signs with slogans like, “No H8 on Our Streets,” “I Support Transgender Equality,” “Join the Fight Against Trans Violence,” and “Hugs, Not Thugs” — a contribution of a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in full nun drag. Another participant held a sign thanking Vicky L. Thomas, a middle-aged woman dressed in a white pantsuit who was the only person who came to Polis’s aid while she was being attacked. The marchers circled the sidewalk in front of the McDonald’s and chanted slogans, then walked to Sixth and University for an open-mike speak-out and headed back to the McDonald’s at the end.

S.A.M.E. organizer Sean Bohac, one of the “Equality Nine” who were arrested last August 19 in a sit-in inside the County Administrative Center protesting the continued denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples, mentioned his own coming-out process as a Gay man and acknowledged that Transgender people have it worse. He quoted statistics from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force that “one-fifth of all Transgender people experience homelessness at some point in their lives; 53 percent have been disrespected in a public place; 63 percent experience major acts of discrimination, including eviction, loss of jobs, physical assault and incarceration. It’s a sad but true fact that nearly 31 percent of nearly all surviving Trangender individuals have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.”

“Before I went to school, I didn’t understand the gender thing,” said attorney and veteran activist Charlie Pratt. “I was a little boy and I spent a lot of time being a fake ‘boy.’ I’m not Transgender, I guess I’m two-spirit or Genderqueer.” Saying he was “getting tired of the alphabet soup” — the initials “LGBT” (standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) now generally used as a supposedly inclusive term for the Queer community, sometimes with additional letters like “Q” and “I” stuck on — Pratt said, “We are all human, and we are all in this together, and that includes all the straight people who support us.”

Chris, who self-identified as part of the Transgender support group at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), thanked the other participants and said, “This sort of thing [attacks like the one on Polis] happens every day. We don’t have to get beaten up to feel it. I’m glad we have allies here and I’m glad we have Trans people here. The best thing I can do to help is have conversations with people, one on one. The more people know how sexy we are, the more they won’t be afraid of us and won’t want to beat us up.”

Another Transgender person, Liat “Red” Wexler — who had come to a S.A.M.E. meeting where the demonstration was planned and self-identified as a “non-binary” (neither male nor female) Transgender person — stated that 90 percent of all Transgender people experience discrimination or harassment on the job. “This is not about Chrissy Lee Polis,” Wexler said. “What would you do if you saw this kind of violence? I would not encourage you to put yourself in harm’s way, but you should turn to other bystanders and call them out when they start laughing,” as some of the people in the McDonald’s when Polis was attacked — including the person filming the attack — did.

“We need the visibility,” said Liz. “The world can be a terrifying place for Transgender and other gender-nonconforming people.”

Zakiya Khabir, another “Equality 9” member and long-time activist with S.A.M.E., commented on the youth of the two women who led the attack on Polis — 18-year-old Teonna Monae Brown and a 14-year-old whose name has not been publicly released — and said, “We have to put Transgender struggles at the forefront of our issues, not just some sort of add-on. We want a world where we can do anything we want with our bodies and our clothes without fear of harassment.”

“I had an awful reaction to the video” of the attack on Polis, said Julie Cervantes of All Out at City. “I started crying, and at the same time I felt anger towards the people who were just watching the attack. I thank Vickey for being the only one who stood up for someone who’s a human being. It could be anybody’s child, family member, friend, human being.” She called on McDonald’s to give their employees sensitivity training so that the next time a Transgender person is attacked in one of their restaurants, the workers will do something constructive “instead of shouting, laughing and videotaping.”

Julie’s sister Michaela, who identified as Bisexual, also spoke. She said that Julie had shown her the video on the Internet and she felt “the two girls who did that were stupid. I have had friends who are Gay and they’ve been made fun of.” She said that as a Bisexual she’s been questioned not only by straight people but by Gays who ask her why she isn’t exclusively Lesbian herself. “I have a thing for girls and guys,” she said. “Coming out to my mom was hard,” Michaela recalled. “Thanks to Julie, I’m here supporting all of you guys.”

“I’m Bi, and it doesn’t matter,” said Laurel. “I’m a human being first. When things like this happen, I lose faith in everybody” — but she added, coming to an event like the demonstration and seeing how many people are willing to stand up for Transgender equality and against hate violence made her feel better about people again.

“There were people who thought it would be inappropriate for us to target [the local] McDonald’s,” acknowledged S.A.M.E. activist and Equality 9 member Cecile Veillard. “But I think it’s important for employers to take responsibility.” She called on people to continue to organize for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban employment discrimination against Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals nationwide, and push for an “all-inclusive” version which would cover Transgender people as well.

The attack on Polis has sparked outrage nationwide, including a April 25 demonstration in Baltimore outside the McDonald’s where the incident took place that drew several hundred people, including a Lesbian state legislator and a city councilmember. Several speakers at the Baltimore rally noted that the attack took place just one week after the Maryland State Senate voted down HB 235, a bill that would have banned discrimination against Transgender people. Polis’s mother, Renée Carr, also spoke at the Baltimore rally and said she supported her daughter “100 percent.”

Polis herself spoke out about the incident in two videotaped interviews with reporter Kevin Richardson of the Baltimore Sun. She pointed out that she is epileptic and was in danger of having a seizure because of the attack, and only Vicky Thomas’ intervention kept that from happening. She also said that the punishment didn’t stop with the physical beating; along with the video, her record of prostitution arrests was also posted on the Internet — which is only going to make it that much harder for her to find a legitimate job in the future.

She also said the attack on her at McDonald’s was far from the first incident of violence and abuse she’s suffered from being Transgender. “I have been raped before, too, because of who I am,” Polis told Richardson. “I’ve found myself at parties where they wanted to fight me, and I’ve had to explain myself to them just to get along with people. I feel you shouldn’t have to explain yourself to anybody. Just be who you are, and go as you are. But people don’t want that to happen, and it sickens me that it has to come down to this.”