On Friday, our staff watched with horror the video of a transgender woman being beaten by two teenagers at a McDonald’s restaurant in Baltimore County. Our hearts go out to the victim of this violence. We know the ways in which violence directed against LGBT people has a ripple effect of fear and anger through the community.
A number of people have asked us what can be done to hold a business accountable for a despicable act such as the one that occurred last Friday. Because while companies can’t determine what their patrons do when they walk through the door, they are accountable for their response when something does happen. Here are some thoughts:
- Accountability: Owners, managers and employees of businesses are accountable for their actions. In this case, Mitchell McPherson, the franchise owner of the restaurant, was quoted in the Baltimore Sun saying, “My first and foremost concern is with the victim. I’m as shocked and disturbed by this assault as anyone would be. The behavior displayed in the video is unfathomable and reprehensible.” He has gone on to fire the employee who videotaped the beating, noting that he may also take action against other employees who were present at the time.
- Focus on the victim: As Mr. McPherson noted, the first concern has to be with the needs of the victim.
- Transparency: A responsible corporation will act with appropriate transparency, not covering up the incident, but publically responding to it, while respecting a victim’s need for privacy. Shortly after the attack became public, McDonald’s put a statement condemning the assault at the top of their Media page on their corporate website.
- Cooperation: It is vital that businesses fully cooperate with the authorities, including emergency response personnel, police officers, investigators, victim services, and prosecutors, as appropriate. McDonald’s has stated that they have been and will be fully cooperative.
- Prevention: The next step is to look to the future and see how to prevent future incidents from occurring and to ensure the safety of their patrons. One important way to do this is to ensure that the owners of franchises, and the people who manage them, receive effective training. This needs to include specific training about transgender people.
- Improvement: Additionally, it is important that companies take action by effectively implementing non-discrimination policies. While McDonald’s has policies that address sexual orientation discrimination, they have not yet added gender identity protections. This is not the first incident involving discrimination against the transgender community at a McDonald’s restaurant, however. In December of 2009, a Florida McDonald’s manager left a voicemail for a transgender applicant, calling her a derogatory name and stating that that they didn’t hire that kind of person. The manager was fired.
Shortly, the news media will turn to other headlines, but this story will still continue. This kind of violence can have long term impact on the victim and it will probably have significant and lasting impact on the lives of the young perpetrators of the crime and on those who stood around and let it happen. This incident will remain for a long time in the minds and hearts of transgender people and our families who fear for our safety. But the story will also unfold in the ways in which McDonald’s and its franchise owners continues to address the situation in their restaurants and we should all continue to look for appropriate responses.
McDonald’s is a sponsor of the 2011 Out & Equal Workplace Summit and we have been in conversation with them about what happened.