Pittsburgh Man Says He Was Assaulted in Local 7-Eleven Because He Is Transgender

Zahair Martinez, a Black transgender man living in Pittsburgh, claims he was assaulted inside a 7-Eleven on Wood Street in Downtown Pittsburgh by a group of seven people. This was 10:15 AM on Sunday December 2.

Martinez spoke with WTAE

“ZAHAIR MARTINEZ TELLS ME HE WAS TARGETED FROM THE SECOND HE WALKED INTO THIS DOWNTOWN 7-11 HE SAYS WITHIN MINUTES OF BEING INSIDE HE WAS MINUTES MARTINEZ UNDER ATTACK AND TERRIFIED

I CAN FEEL MY BODY GETTING WEAK, SHUTTING DOWN, I JUST PRAYED THAT THEY WOULDN’T KEEP KICKING ME.

MARCIE: ZAHAIR MARTINEZ TELLS ME IN THOSE MOMENTS HE WAS AFRAID FOR HIS LIFE. 

I WAS JUST GOING IN THERE TO GET MONEY FROM THE ATM AND LEFT OUT BRUSIED UP, BLOOD EVERYWHERE, BLOOD ON MY PEACOA BLOOD ON MY SHOES.

MARCIE: THESE IMAGES MARTINEZ SAYS WERE TAKEN AFTER HE WAS KICKED IN THE FACE REPEATEDLY, HD COFFEE THROWN IN HIS EYES, AND WAS CALLED DEROGATORY TERMS BY SEVEN STRANGERS INSIDE THE WOOD STREET 7/11. MARTINEZ IS TRANSGENDER, AND SAYS HIS ATTACKERS MADE IT CLEAR THAT THAT IS WHY THEY BEAT HIM.

THEY REFERED TO ME AS A HE-SHE. I THOUGHT SOMEBODY WOULD COME TO MY DEFENSE, STOP IT, CALL 911.

Zahair Martinez Pittsburgh
Via Facebook

Martinez was able to break free and leave the store. A passerby took him to a hospital. In this interview and on Facebook, Martinez described his attackers as using homophobic and transphobic slurs, with one woman throwing hot coffee on him.

I reached out to Zahair Martinez, but he did not want to comment. Sources in the local LGBTQ communities tell me that he is being supported and prefers to handle his affairs on his own.

There’s a few critical general questions for us all to ask. I’ve reached out to reporter Marcie Cipriani to see if she asked.

First, is 7-Eleven cooperating with the investigation? Have they made the store footage available to the police? Are they requiring the employees on duty to give statements? Are they investigating internally?

Hand-in-hand with that is the question of why 7-Eleven employees did not report the incident to 911 right away? If they had done so, the police would have had the footage right away, obtained footage from nearby external cameras, and possibly been able to talk with witnesses.  Are the clerks at this store so indifferent to violence in their workplaces that they simply just did nothing?

I’m guessing the had to clean up after the incident and there absolutely must be policies about handling blood and other bodily fluids in a space that serves hot food. You don’t just schlep out a mop, clean it up, and go back to business. There are probably internal reports to fill out when things escalate inside the store and someone hurls hot coffee at another customer.

Zahair Martinez Pittsburgh
Via Facebook

Second, I’d like to know if anyone has located the footage Zahair references from the people recording the assault. If so, have they sent it to the police? Or even to local transgender activist groups? Or anyone?

In 2013, I witnessed a 7-Eleven employee use trans slurs to describe a third person. I said something, that employee ran into the back, and the owner/manager did absolutely nothing even though we had a petition up, etc. I spoke with both the franchise owner and corporate, several times. They simply refused to acknowledge that it was a problem – I remember one woman at corporate HR claimed she had never heard the slur “tranny” and made me spell it for her. I was working with a transgender activist who at that point lived near the store so this wasn’t me just going rogue.

Back then, we wanted employees to be trained in LGBTQ affirming policies. Now, I’m wondering why the hell the employees on duty who witnessed this would NOT call the police even after Zahair Malachi Martinez fled for his life? You don’t need cultural sensitivity training to realize that 7 versus 1 and hot coffee being poured on someone on the ground being kicked means call 911. That’s common sense.

And if it happens so often that store employees are immune to the transphobia and homophobia among other harassments, what does that say about the culture of the company itself?

We must respect Zahair’s wishes with regard to how he recovers and addresses this ordeal.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t hold 7-Eleven accountable for ensuring that all customers are treated with fairness and decency, must less not fear for their safety.

So this is what I’d suggest and please know I’m speaking only for myself.

  1. Reach out to the Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Group and ask them to work with City officials, including the LGBTQ liaison at the Police Bureau to ensure everything is being done to investigate this thoroughly.
  2. If you know someone who works for 7-Eleven, ask them privately about their work culture. Based on my own experience in 2013, I don’t have much faith that the corporation actually cares about respect.
  3. Invest in the regional transgender led organizations who are providing the support for neighbors having these experiences, both those on the news and those we never know about.
  4. Contact the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership and ask how they are responding as part of their work to create a family friendly, vibrant Downtown community. That should include a Black trans man being able to use an ATM at 10 AM in the morning without ending up in the hospital. Send them a tweet with a link to one of the stories and ask them to address.

Finally, last night on the news I saw that the family of Dakota James is continuing their private investigation into his death because they do not accept that it was an accident. They have hired some big guns, including a retired NYPD detective and Dr. Cyril Wecht. As I watched the segment, I kept thinking how even a fraction of that investment poured into Zahair’s situation or others could help our LGBTQ neighbors who are still with us. It would be good to see the James family acknowledge this incident and use their advocacy around street video cameras to help.

Imagine how much good they can do through their foundation to ensure Zahair’s family and the families of so many other people aren’t burying their children, too. Or educating the public about the realities of corporate video and how to help your friends/advocates get their hands on footage before it disappears or without having to wait for a subpoena.

I embedded the Facebook version of the video from the WTAE website because the comments best illustrate that “stronger than hate” is not actually the way people in our City conduct themselves except for a few days after a tragedy. It is terrible, but true that hate is pretty strong here in Pittsburgh, especially for the most vulnerable among us.

Zahair commented “I thought someone would come to my defense” and that’s a heartwrenching truth. He had every reason to expect someone – anyone – to help him, to do something. The trauma of realizing that no one did has got to be difficult to process. My heart aches for him, having to endure that on his own.

I remember a few years ago receiving 7-Eleven coupons as part of a Pittsburgh Pridefest giveaway. What good are those coupons if LGBTQ residents, especially transgender fox, can’t safely go into the store to redeem them?