Posted at 04:26 PM ET, 04/25/2011

Transgender rights in the spotlight in Maryland and Texas


McDonald’s beating victim Chrissy Lee Polis shows a bruise on her face. (Screengrab from Baltimore Sun interview )
In February, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) released the first study of its kind on discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming people.

The report painted a scary picture. 41 percent of respondents said they had attempted suicide, which is 26 times the national average. More than 90 percent said they faced some kind of discrimination. In places of public accommodation, over half of respondents reported being verbally harassed, and eight percent said they had been physically attacked or assaulted.

Last weekend, a 22-year-old transgender woman put a face to those numbers when she was brutally attacked by a woman and juvenile at a suburban Baltimore McDonalds.

Chrissy Lee Polis was repeatedly kicked, punched, and dragged across the floor by the woman and juvenile. An older woman unsuccessfully tried to intervene, while a McDonalds worker actually egged on the assault while videotaping the entire incident.

(Watch video below.)

Mara Keisling, founding executive director of the NCTE says although the video does not make it clear whether the crime occurred because Polis was transgender, Polis believes that it was.

Advocates for transgender equality are planning a vigil outside the McDonald’s tonight at 7 p.m to condemn the attack.

Police have arrested both alleged attackers and prosecutors may file hate-crime charges against them.

To give context to the McDonald’s beating, Keisling cites data that more than one transgender person dies of violence every month in the United States.

“It most often happens to victims who are also low income, women, or of color,” she said.

Advocates of transgender equality have also faced a bad couple of weeks at the legislative level.

In Texas, lawmakers announced Monday that they are trying to overturn a state law that allows transgender people to marry spouses of the opposite sex legally. Texas was one of the last states to allow transgender people to use proof of their sex change to get a marriage license.

The action would not only prevent future marriages but could potentially invalidate existing marriages.

Keisling says this kind of retroactive action is “unprecedented” anywhere in the country. “It is certainly mean-spirited and aiming at hurting transgender people,” she said.

A representative for Texas Gov. Rick Perry insists that Perry never intended to sign any bill that would allow transgender people to marry, saying, “The governor has always believed and advocated that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Just two weeks prior to Texas lawmakers’ announcement, the Maryland Senate voted 27-20 to send the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act (HB 235) back to the Judicial Proceedings Committee, effectively killing the bill.

The legislation would have protected transgender people in Maryland from discrimination in housing and employment.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., the chamber's only openly gay member, said that day:

The Senate’s treatment of this legislation will be remembered for a long time by the LGBT community and Marylanders who believe in equal rights for all.

When asked whether discrimination against transgender people in the United States is getting worse, Keisling doesn’t give a definitive answer, but says this: “There are a lot more of us that are out and willing to stand up. There are more of us insisting on our place in society. And unfortunately that is often matched by ignorance.”

By  |  04:26 PM ET, 04/25/2011

 
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