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”This is the beginning,” prominent transgender activist Dana Beyer said.
”Our legislators are going to have to listen going forward.”
Beyer made those remarks when talking to Metro Weekly after a Monday night vigil at a Baltimore McDonald’s concluded with a rendition of ”We Shall Overcome” led by singer Lea Gilmore.
It was at that same McDonald’s – at 6315 Kenwood Ave. in Rosedale, Baltimore – where Chrissy Polis, 22, was physically attacked on April 18 by two people after trying to use a bathroom in the restaurant.
Polis appears to suffer a seizure during the attack, which was documented on a portable phone by a McDonald’s employee who was fired on Saturday.
One week before the incident, the Maryland Senate voted to recommit legislation that would have provided some protections – though not public accommodations – to transgender people in Maryland, shelving House Bill 235, for the year.
The vigil was planned by Trans-United; TransMaryland; the Baltimore County for Equality; the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore; and other allies.
Since the attack, one of the suspects, a 14-year-old female, has been charged as a juvenile, the other suspect Teonna Monae Brown, 18, was charged with one count of first-degree assault and two counts of second-degree assault, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Looking around at the large crowd of about 300 people who attended the event, Beyer said she was thrilled and that the message is clear: there’s an urgency.
”It shows that the community does care, and people are willing to step up and stand up and make a difference. This is, I believe the beginning,” she said. ”I think our legislators, they always ask, ‘What’s the need for this legislation? There’s only a dozen of you. Why do we have to pass civil rights legislation?’ And the response to that is if there is one person, you still need to pass legislation.
”As Dr. Martin Luther King said if there is injustice to one person, there’s injustice to all of us. But this shows that we are a very large community. Family and friends are willing to stand up with us to protest violence, hate and injustice,” Beyer said. ”I hope that Chrissy is going to know that she’s got even more friends than she knows she has.”
Those friends included Maryland Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), who came to the event after watching the video of the attack.
”It was horrible, but the good thing about it being on videotape is that for anybody who thinks there’s no urgency to this issue, and to passing this legislation, can now see that this is not just something that people are making up,” she said. ”They need these protections. These are basic human protections — to be able to go to McDonald’s and not be beaten.”
Washington was the only member of the Maryland General Assembly’s LGBT Caucus to attend.
”One person is at a funeral, two people are out of the country, and one person is in Florida,” Washington said. ”I’ve been in communication with them. We’ve been talking about it. Everybody is aware of it, and we see this as an opportunity to go back and have a renewed press to pass this legislation.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, lauded Washington and Councilmember [Carl] Stokes (D) for attending, but noted that also missing at the event was Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D).
”If I could snidely note somebody who is not here, [Senate President] Mike Miller, who just two weeks ago said it was anti-family to protect transgender people. He should be ashamed of himself.”
But Keisling was not overlooking the positive: the large turnout.
”Three or four hundred people have gathered here because transgender people are tired of facing this violence day in and day out,” she said. ”This was a very public visible case of violence but this kind of violence happens everyday in the transgender community. When it’s not happening to us, we’re afraid it’s going to be happening to us. People are tired of it and want to do something about it. Coming together is a good first start.”
Donna Cartwright, president of Pride at Work, echoed those sentiments.
”This is a wonderful outpouring of support for a person who was really poorly mistreated. I’m glad to see so many people here on short notice. I would have liked to see Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County), who is the senator who represents this district, here,” Cartwright said. ”She was invited. She also was a supporter of [House Bill 235] until the last day, and then she voted to recommit it. It would have been good if she could have been here.”
The vigil took place just a few days after Equality Maryland, the state’s LGBT organization, lost its executive director when Morgan Meneses-Sheets announced that she had been fired from the organization by the board of directors, who dispute that claim. Board members Lisa Polyak and Darrell Carrington, however, attended the event.
Carrington said of the attack on Polis, ”It’s a shame that we had a such a tragic situation and horrible incident bring people together, but I think this highlights and points out to the General Assembly that we must have public accommodations in any [gender-identity] anti-discrimination law.
”Laws don’t stop people from doing this necessarily, but we need these things on the book to offer basic protections so that this doesn’t happen anymore. I’m tired of coming to these vigils because our lawmakers don’t understand that people are being brutalized,” he said. ”In this case, thankfully, the story got out. But this happens everyday and no one knows anything about it. Let’s take this tragedy and make sure it highlights the issue so that we can get the protections we need in the books.”
The incident prompted Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel, Prince George’s), the lead sponsor of H.B. 235 to address her colleagues in an open letter on April 25.
”Incidents such as this illustrate why the transgender community in Maryland and elsewhere needs to be protected through antidiscrimination legislation,” she said.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz addressed the matter in a statement to Metro Weekly on April 25, calling the attack “vicious” and a “wake up call.”
”Although this vicious attack was an isolated incident and in no way reflects on the Baltimore County or Rosedale communities, it does serve as a wake up call that we all have a role to play in moving society forward,” he said. ”It is the conversations around our dinner tables and the casual chatter among friends that develop patterns of behavior.
Kamenetz went on to talk about the next steps moving forward, for the government and that community.
“I have every confidence that Police Chief Jim Johnson and State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger will address this matter professionally, as they address all issues of public safety in Baltimore County,” he said. ”But it is not only their responsibility to make us safe and secure. That responsibility is shared by each of us who call Baltimore County home.”
Though Polis was not at the vigil, her mother, Renee Carr, was, representing her daughter whom she said is still recovering from the attack.
”She was thankful, and I came on her behalf,” she said. ”I’m shocked looking at all of these supporters out here today. I’m so happy that everyone pulled everything together and that everyone is rooting for my daughter.”