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Assault on Maryland Transgendered Woman May Be a Hate Crime

A furor has arisen over the brutal beating of a transgendered woman in a McDonald’s Restaurant near Baltimore, with many supporters saying that Chrissy Lee Polis was attacked because of her gender identity in a classic hate crime and calling for the levying of hate crime charges. However, Polis seems to have given differing accounts of the attack, and prosecutors say they are still investigating and have not spoken to the victim yet.

The attack on Polis, 22, occurred on April 18, but has only in the last few days drawn national attention on LGBT websites and elsewhere. On Monday, some 300 people rallied against violence directed at the transgendered, singing “We Shall Overcome” outside the Rosedale, Md., McDonald’s. In a weird aside, the white supremacist website Occidental Dissent — a site thick with links to racist blogs with names like “Why Blacks Suck” — attacked the Southern Poverty Law Center on Monday, saying it was ignoring the attack because Polis was white and her two attackers were black. That shows the SPLC is a “hate racket,” the site said.

A restaurant employee recorded the attack on his cell phone and posted it on YouTube, where it was quickly removed, but not before it had been reposted across the Internet. The attackers pushed Polis to the floor, kicked her several times, and ripped her earrings from her earlobes before Polis went into an apparent epileptic seizure. The video shows that although one employee and a store patron tried to intervene, other McDonald's employees did nothing, and in fact seemed to be goading on the attackers. (The employee who taped the attack was later fired.) Two young women have been arrested and charged with assault, according to press reports. Teonna Monae Brown, 18, had been arrested previously for a fight at the same restaurant in 2010. The second suspect was a 14-year-old juvenile and her name was not released.

The Baltimore Sun reported Sunday that Scott Shellenberger, the Maryland state attorney for Baltimore County, said his office had not yet received the case file and had not yet interviewed Polis. He said his office would likely interview her in the “next week and a half” and gather additional evidence in order to determine if the attack was a hate crime. “When the case was first presented, none of those facts had been revealed to the police – which is why the charges were the way they were,” Shellenberger told the newspaper. “We can certainly revisit the motive for the attack and determine if we need to make additional charges.”

Confusing details about the attack have emerged in different media reports. Polis told the Sun in a video interview posted online a few days after the attack that the assailants confronted her because one of them thought Polis was trying to “talk to her man.” In the video, Polis said, “They just seemed like they wanted to pick a fight that night. They really did.” Polis also expressed discomfort with Internet speculation about the attack, but she didn’t address any specific online assumptions.

However, in a subsequent article this Sunday, Polis told the Sun that the attack “was definitely a hate crime,” and that when she emerged from the ladies’ restroom, the attackers said, “That's a dude, that's a dude, and she's in the female bathroom.” Polis also told the Sun that she thought race might have played a role. For its part, the police report quotes one of the suspects as saying that the fight was “over using a bathroom,” according to the Sun. Then, in a Tuesday article at MyFoxDC, Polis was quoted saying that the two girls jumped her when she tried to use the bathroom after one of their boyfriends tried to “hit on her.” The article went on to say that “the vicious attack escalated when they realized she was a transsexual.”

Equality Maryland, an LGBT rights group, has called on state attorney general Douglas Gansler to investigate the attack as a hate crime.

Polis told the Sun in the Sunday article that it's not the first time she's been assaulted because of her identity. Since the attack she said she's afraid to go outside, and worried that all the publicity will keep her from getting a job.

Polis is hardly alone. As a major Intelligence Report article last fall reported, members of the LGBT community are vastly more likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime than any other minority, as shown by an analysis of FBI hate crime data. Although official statistics on attacks on transgendered people do not exist, it seems clear that they are almost certainly the most victimized members of that LGBT community, and therefore the most victimized group in American society. In 2003, the Report carried a major article on an epidemic of murders of transgendered people in the Washington, D.C., area.

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