While McDonald's has tried to make some hay out of the LGBTQ community and pride month by placing rainbows on its French fry boxes and sponsoring a few marches, around 50 people gathered at a Chicago restaurant June 23 to call the company out for blatant hypocrisy.
Multiple advocacy organizations including Fight for $15, Lambda Legal, Healing to Action and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless made their voices heard in solidarity with transgender woman of color La 'Ray Reed who filed a May 25, 2017 civil-rights lawsuit against McDonald's Corporation alleging "extreme sexual harassment and disparate treatment based on sex" which she "suffered throughout her employment" at a restaurant in a Detroit suburb.
The catalogue of horrific dehumanization Reed allegedly experienced for the six months before she was abruptly fired from McDonald's were described in testimony read by activist and fast-food employee Ashley Bruce.
"Once my manager told another crew member through the headset to touch my private area to see if I had a penis or vagina," Reed asserted. "One co-worker, following instructions from the manager, walked by and grabbed me in my private area."
"There was another time when a manager told another crew member to follow me into the ladies room to see if I was standing up or sitting down to use the toilet," Reed continued. "When I came out of the restroom, the manager said I could no longer use either of the restrooms in the lobby. Instead, she made me go in the very back of the store and clean the filthy bathroom that was being used, at the time, as a storage closet."
Reed said that she tried to report the incidents to the franchise owner but "[he] got made mad at me because I called him while he was at church. Instead of doing anything about it, management terminated me and made it seem like I was the problem."
McDonalds claims "diversity and inclusion is a foundational element of our culture, it permeates multiple aspects of the business." The Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) has given the company a score of 100 on its Corporate Equality Index.
Organizers of the June 23 event stated that Reed's case was not one in isolationthat it is a systemic issue.
"McDonald's are supposed to be supporting the LGBTQ community," Fight for $15 activist Elizabeth Tawiah said. "But LGBTQ workers are often discriminated [against] as well as being harassed at our workplaces."
HRC appears to have not taken such incidents into account in its rating system.
Reed claimed her experiences sent her into a state of depression. "I started having suicidal thoughts," she wrote. "There were days when I thought everything would be so much easier if I killed myself."
Bruce spoke for the entire protest in a personal message of encouragement to Reed.
"You don't have to worry about being bullied, picked on and treated wrong," she said. "We're standing up for you. If it comes down to it, we'll come down to Detroit to shut that McDonald's down."
As an illustration of their resolve to do precisely that, organizers moved from the street outside to inside the restaurant where they fanned out and chanted "Justice for La 'Ray Reed" to both workers and customers.
Legal assistant at Lambda Legal Alexis Paige said she was there to stand in solidarity not only with Reed but "trans people all over this country who are vulnerable to harassment, violence and losing their jobs simply for living their lives with honesty and without shame. La 'Ray, we see you and we are here for you."
The Chicago Police Department arrived at the protest but no arrests were made and the action concluded peacefully but with the same resolve with which it began.
"Trans workers deserve to be able to go to work as our full selves," Paige declared. "We deserve to be treated with respect and have our identity acknowledged. We deserve to be able to use the restrooms in accordance with out gender identity. It's fair. It should be expected. We will not be erased. We will not be ignored and we certainly aren't going anywhere. We shouldn't have to still be fighting for our humanity but don't think we're too tired to fight."
For more information on Fight for $15, visit: fightfor15.org .
For more information on Lambda Legal, visit: lambdalegal.org .
For more information on Healing to Action, visit facebook.com/healingtoaction .