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A trans girl was assaulted at a Minnesota high school. Her family is demanding justice (exclusive)

Hopkins High School Minnetonka
via Hopkins High School

The mother of a transgender girl who was viciously attacked at Hopkins High School in Minnesota tells The Advocate about the response from both the school and local community.

Cobalt Sovereign did everything she was supposed to do.

The 17-year-old, who identifies as an agender, nonbinary, transgender girl, was using the boys bathroom on May 30, even though her state, Minnesota, protects the right for transgender people to use their preferred restroom. Despite using the facilities that align with her biological sex, and minding her own business, the junior wasn't protected from what would happen next.

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As Cobalt sat in the stall at Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, a male student she had never met before looked over the top, and began berating her with an antigay slur. She decided to leave before she was able to use the bathroom, but the student pursued her still.

The boy followed Cobalt out of the bathroom, continuing to spew the slur. When she asked him why he was harassing her, the student punched Cobalt in the face, breaking her jaw in two places, cracking her teeth, and concussing her, according to her family.

"It's been a week now, and it's like one of those weeks where you don't know what time it is and what day it is, because there's so much physical pain," Ashley Sovereign, Cobalt's mother, told The Advocate.

School staff did not call an ambulance or contact police after the assault, Sovereign said, but instead called her and her ex-husband, and told them to take her to the dentist. Cobalt's injuries were too severe for the dentist, who sent the family to the emergency room. From the emergency room, she was taken via ambulance to a trauma hospital to undergo surgery. Surgeons did not need to wire Cobalt's jaw shut, but instead put in three titanium plates.

Cobalt was sent home from the hospital on Saturday, and the weekend passed without word from the school or district. Sovereign said she only heard from them Tuesday after she directly reached out to the superintendent, who had not yet heard of the incident.

"I don't even think she knew that it hadn't been reported to the police or that an ambulance hadn't been called," Sovereign said, adding that she herself had also "assumed there were police there already. I assumed [Cobalt] had been adequately assessed, too."

A spokesperson for the Minnetonka Police Department confirmed to The Advocate that the Sovereign family filed a report with them shortly after the incident Thursday, but that the department does not have any record of Hopkins High School contacting police.

Sovereign said that police were not able to obtain security footage of the event from the school until Tuesday, which delayed the investigation.

"So, if this boy had a weapon in his hand or something, all that evidence is gone," she said.

Meanwhile, word of the incident spread among the Minnesota community, leaving parents and students with several questions. Sovereign got in contact with local LGBTQ+ groups, who decided to hold a rally at the school to put pressure on the administration. Transforming Families and the Queer Equity Institute led the protest Wednesday morning just outside the school's campus, which was also attended by State Rep. Leigh Finke, Minnesota's first out transgender legislator.

"One thing that's true about Minnesota and the queer community that we have here is we show up for each other," Executive Director of Transforming Families, Hannah Edwards, told The Advocate. "Within less than 24 hours, we had all of the major queer and trans [organizations] represented with staff and director-level people there. We had community members showing up. We had Hopkins community members who have queer and trans kids at these schools."

Hopkins High School did not send out a message to families about the assault until the groups announced the demonstration, according to Edwards, who said the email didn't come until "a few hours after we posted that our rally was happening, because the school was not being super cooperative with the parents."

Shortly after the groups' announcements went out, Hopkins High School families received the email from Principal Crystal Ballard, which only revealed that an "act of violence" was committed against an LGBTQ+ student last week, leaving them "physically injured."

"Regardless of the facts of this particular case, we know that even hearing a rumor that an act of violence has occurred to a member of a marginalized group – in this case, our LGBTQ+ community – is upsetting and can be traumatizing," Ballard wrote in the message. "Hopkins Public Schools works very intentionally to create safe places for LGBTQ+ families, staff and scholars."

Ballard added that families should "not hesitate to reach out to our LGBTQ+ Liaison Laura Jensen if your scholar needs support. The Trevor Project is a resource that you can use as we transition into the summer months."

The message was followed by a second email from Ballard, who said that the school was working with law enforcement to "minimize any impacts on the school day" that the demonstration would have. She added that while the administration is not directly involved in planning the protest, it is "in support of a rally that brings attention to what is not right in the world."

A spokesperson for Hopkins High School told The Advocate in a statement that it is "unable to comment until the investigation is complete."

"The Hopkins High School administration team and the Minnetonka Police Department are investigating an act of violence that occurred last Thursday and involved a student who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community," they said. "Hopkins Public Schools is an inclusive community that values diversity and inclusion. We will address any issues that compromise the safety and inclusivity of our school environment. We support and stand by any group that is marginalized, including our LGBTQ+ scholars and staff."

In her second email, Ballard recommended that students not participate in the rally for safety reasons, claiming that a protest organized by outside groups could attract counter-protestors. Sovereign said that students were told they would not be let back into the school if they joined the demonstration.

Edwards believes that Ballard's warnings about safety were not warranted, she said, but rather a "scare tactic" meant to "scare young students out of using their voice."

"We felt the need to put the public pressure on and hold a rally. That was one of the big reasons was to bring this forward, to say that all eyes are on you and we're demanding justice," Edwards said. "And then, of course, to also show this child and the family that they are loved and have hundreds of advocates who are ready to stand with them."

Many students at the high school decided to walk out and join the demonstration despite the warnings. Even students from the nearby middle school came over with their GSA club advisor to show solidarity. Sovereign said that some of her own graduate students also attended, to her surprise.

"I'm so moved and touched and grateful. That's the community that we feel like we're a part of," Sovereign said. "I do think, honestly, that's partly healing her. Just knowing that nobody thinks this is okay."

The Minnetonka Police Department spokesperson confirmed that it is investigating the incident as a "possible hate crime," and that its findings will soon go to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, which will decide on charges.

Sovereign believes that it all should have happened sooner.

"It was an emergency and such a vicious assault. I don't know why the police weren't called immediately," she said. "That caused her hours of extra suffering."

To Edwards, the incident bears similarities to the case of Nex Benedict, a transgender Indigenous teen in Oklahoma who died by suicide after he was assaulted in a school bathroom — one that also correlated to his biological sex rather than gender identity.

"A lot of people think this happened to Nex Benedict in Oklahoma, because it's Oklahoma," Edwards said. "And I think we need to realize that it's a really scary time for our trans children right now, and we need to do our very best to proactively protect them so this doesn't happen again."

Sovereign also pointed to the rising tide of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the United States as a factor that is emboldening people to carry out attacks like the one against her daughter. More than 550 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in 2023, and 80 were passed into law, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Just halfway through 2024, 515 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced, with 34 passed into law. The majority target transgender children, with many restricting their bathroom usage.

"All of that legislation is contributing to an environment where somebody thinks that this is okay," Sovereign said.

As Cobalt recovers, she and her family will be awaiting charges and a potential arrest. Beyond that, Sovereign said they are waiting for a "safe place for trans people."

"She's a kid. She was using the bathroom. She was doing what everybody says that children like her should do — go use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender that you had at birth," Sovereign said. "Well, she did, because she doesn't want to make other people uncomfortable. And it just is heartbreaking that the result of that is that she gets so seriously hurt."

"The school didn't respond well, but it's bigger than that," Sovereign continued. "It's about the world being safe for people who don't conform to what other people think they ought to look like."

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Ryan Adamczeski

Ryan is a staff writer at The Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel "Someone Else's Stars," and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.
Ryan is a staff writer at The Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel "Someone Else's Stars," and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.