By Keziyah Lewis
Originally published on Advocate.com November 06 2013 5:26 AM ET
The recent events surrounding the slander and public outing of Jane Doe, a trans student at Florence High School in Colorado, are a testament to how we as a society do not value the lives of trans individuals, especially trans youth.
This is the gist of what happened: The Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative, anti-LGBT organization, sent a letter to the administration at Florence High School in which it claimed that Jane Doe, a trans female student, was harassing students in the girls’ bathrooms. The Pacific Justice Institute also claimed that the school administration threatened to punish students who spoke up against the alleged harassment. Institute president Brad Dacus stated, “We’re not going to stand by and let 99.7% of our students lose their privacy and free speech rights just because .3% of the population are gender-confused.”
As it turns out, as reported by Cristan Williams of The TransAdvocate, the claims of harassment were false. Williams spoke with the superintendent of the school, Rhonda Vendetti, who said that “to our knowledge and based on our investigation, none of those things have actually happened.” However, before the claim could be proved false, it had already been reported on media outlets such as Fox News, the Christian Broadcasting Network, and the U.K.'s Daily Mail. It’s unfortunate that for these news organizations, demonization of a trans student is easier than fact checking.
In other words, the Pacific Justice Institute, international media outlets that carried the story sans fact checking, and antitrans people who have outed her and called for her death are essentially engaging in large-scale bullying. We know that bullying has a profound effect on young people in general, resulting in mental health issues, truancy, and lower grades. For trans students, the effects of bullying and discrimination can be just as, if not more devastating. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 51 percent of trans people who were bullied in school have considered suicide.
As for Jane Doe (whose real name has been revealed by certain antitrans activists but should be concealed to preserve what’s left of her privacy as well as her safety), she and her family have undoubtedly been affected by the hateful attention that has been directed at them. In fact, according to The TransAdvocate, Jane Doe is now on suicide watch. In trying to advance its hateful political agenda, the Pacific Justice Institute has put a young woman’s life at risk. While claiming to defend the constitutional rights and privacy of (cisgender) people, and affirming that they value the life of Jane Doe (as Matthew McReynolds, a lawyer for the institute, claimed during an interview with The TransAdvocate), the Pacific Justice Institute has caused unnecessary pain for Jane Doe and her family. It has so little regard for the life of one innocent teenager that it appears willing to bully her to death in order to preserve cisgender dominance and privilege. Of course, this is not an isolated incident. As a society, we are so committed to maintaining cis privilege that a trans person’s every move is policed or threatened with violence, whether it’s as public as running for office or as private as using the bathroom.
This is not just about Jane Doe’s right to privacy and the right to use the bathroom that is right for her. This is about her life, her humanity, her health, and her safety. This is about the humanity of trans youth around the country who are bullied, harassed, attacked, and murdered every day, especially trans people of color. It’s about how we cis people continue to view trans people as less than human at worst and afterthoughts at best, instead of as people; and how we benefit from and are participants in the systems of oppression that are killing trans folks. It is about the right to unapologetically exist without fear, while living in a world that punishes trans youth for the crime of being. It is about life and death for Jane Doe and many other trans youth who have to fight every day just to exist.
Recently California became the first state to allow students to choose bathrooms and play on sports teams that match with the gender they identify with, regardless of the gender assigned at birth. Though this legislation is helpful, more can and should be done. I do believe that other states should follow in California’s example, but also cissexism and transphobia must be challenged in all types of institutions and alongside different systems of oppression. Trans youth are affected by systemic racism that increases rates of poverty, violence, and discrimination of all forms among black, Latino, American Indian and Alaskan Native, and Asian trans people. They are abused by the prison industrial complex, as Cece McDonald was for defending herself during a transphobic attack. In addition, cissexism causes trans youth like Islan Nettles to be attacked and murdered at alarming rates. Yet amid all of this, mainstream LGBTQ organizations and movements have historically left trans folks out, focusing solely on lesbian and gay issues. It is completely unacceptable that even within the queer community, trans people are marginalized and forgotten by the rest of us.
We can do better, and we must do better, and work harder to create safe public spaces for trans youth. In-school safety is just as important as safety elsewhere, for it is almost pointless for a young trans person to feel safe going to the bathroom at school if she fears being beaten by a group of strangers on her way home.
This work should be done in solidarity with (not on behalf of) trans youth and must address oppression from various systems and institutions. For the Ceces, Islans, Cocos, and the Jane Does out there, we need to stop ignoring the realities of oppression against trans folks and start doing our part to advocate for justice.
KEZIYAH LEWIS is an activist with Advocates for Youth. As a queer youth of color, she is motivated to fight for the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the reproductive health movement and to eradicate reproductive health disparities that affect poor people and people of color.