A transgender 16-year-old girl, Jewlyes, was attacked at her school in California in November. When a long-time tormentor threw used gum and saliva in Jewlyes face, Jewlyes reacted in self-defense, and then two more students joined in the fight against Jewlyes. Now, the District Attorney is charging the young trans student with battery.
Aside from minor scratches, no one was injured in the altercation.
“We want parents and students to know that if anyone ever feels threatened or bullied or that they are in danger in any way, they can go to the principal or a teacher and let them know,” school district spokesman Marin Trujillo told CBS San Francisco after the fight.
Many of the subsequent actions, however, have been contrary to this encouraging sentiment. The school suspended all students involved in the fight, including Jewlyes, who said that her previous attempts to seek help from school officials did nothing to curtail the harassment she regularly faces from classmates for being transgender.
"It went to a point that I had all these emotions on me, and I didn't know what to do," she said. "It came to a point where I wanted to hurt myself," she told NBC Bay Area.
Jewlyes is the only one of the four teens involved to face charges related to the fight. Deputy District Attorney Dan Cabral told NBC Bay Area that, unless he is presented with a court order, he will not publicly comment on why his office is charging Jewlyes with battery.
"I think by charging her, it sends a message to bullies that you can bully individuals, and that adults will then further victimize the person that you've been tormenting," said Kaylie Simon, Jewlyes' public defender, to KTVU.
Unfortunately, Jewlyes is not the first trans person to face legal ramifications as a result of being attacked by anti-trans aggressors. One of the most notable examples is CeCe McDonald, a trans woman of color from Minnesota who has been serving time in a men's prison facility since the summer of 2012. CeCe was verbally attacked with transphobic, racist, and homophobic slurs before being physically attacked by Dean Schmitz, a white cisgender man, and his friends, who threw glass at CeCe (the glass went through CeCe's cheek, creating a gash). During the attack, Schmitz was stabbed with a pair of scissors and died.
After much grassroots campaigning, including an upcoming documentary from Laverne Cox entitled FREE CECE, it was recently announced that CeCe will be released this month—more than a year early—from prison.
Jewlyes' sister, Melissa, has spearheaded her own grassroots advocacy by creating a Change.org petition asking the DA's office to drop the charges against Jewlyes.
"Please tell the District Attorneys Office that we want our tax dollars spent on teaching tolerance and on conflict resolution programs in schools, not on prosecuting teens who are in need of a safe learning environment," Melissa wrote on the Change.org page.
Jewyles' attack and subsequent charges have come on the heels of a large-scale attempt to repeal the School Success and Opportunity Act, or AB1266. The non-discrimination law ensures that students who identify as trans are assured equal access to all school activities, programs, and facilities. More than 480,000 signatures were collected by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) in attempts to have a referendum to appeal AB1266 on California's November 2014 ballot. While they appear to be more than 20,000 signatures short to make the ballot, a full count is in still in progress. Some are concerned that AB1266 will be repealed, while others report optimism that the law will remain in place.