By Parker Marie Molloy
Originally published on Advocate.com January 09 2014 6:39 PM ET
Jewelyes Gutierrez, a sophomore at Hercules High School in Hercules, Calif., made national news after video of her and three female classmates surfaced following a fight at school November 15. According to Kaylie Simon, Gutierrez’s public defender, the 16-year-old had been bullied as a result of her transgender status leading up to the altercation.
“Jewelyes identifies as transgender, and I think she had been tormented and harassed at school because of how she identifies,” Simon told KTVU.
According to Gutierrez's testimony before the school board Monday, she informed administrators about the bullying she was facing on a regular basis, but says they took no direct action prior to the physical altercation. After bullying continued, Gutierrez contends she fought back against her aggressors.
"I was just sticking up for myself," she told NBC Bay Area. "Because you're different, you'll get picked on, you'll get name calling, bullied, taunted, harassed — all those."
While none of the individuals involved in the fight came away with serious injuries, the district attorney filed misdemeanor battery charges against only Gutierrez. All the girls involved were temporarily suspended from school.
West Contra Costa School Board President Charles Ramsey, who previously said he believes Gutierrez was the victim in the incident, disagrees with the district attorney's charges against Gutierrez. Instead, Ramsey says the incident should have been a "teachable moment," not "something that should rise the level of where it has to go to the district attorney's office for prosecution."
Gutierrez's public defender said she was surprised to see her client charged, as well. “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,” Simon told KTVU.
News of these charges gained renewed attention after Gutierrez' sister launched an online petition urging the district attorney's office to drop the charges.
Watch NBC Bay Area's report on the ongoing efforts to make Hercules High School more LGBT-friendly below.