On October 13th, a story appeared at the Christian Broadcasting Network about girls being harassed by a trans youth in the washroom of a Colorado-area school. Soon afterward, the story was picked up by the Daily Mail, the Examiner, FOX News, and several webmedia outlets. One even embellished it with a claim that the girls were threatened with hate crime charges). After a few years of using the spectre of a fabled bathroom predator to scare people about the prospect of human rights law inclusion for trans people, it almost seemed like the far right was clapping with glee at finally having found one.
Except that it wasn’t true.
Almost immediately after the story broke, it was debunked, and some media — including the Daily Mail and the Examiner — had retracted it. This was because Transadvocate’s Cristan Williams contacted Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti, and was told that:
“This is one parent basically bringing their viewpoint about this situation to the media because they weren’t getting the responses that they hoped they would get from the district, from parents of students at the high school, or from the board and myself. So I think it’s just an attempt to elevate the situation to a point where maybe some more attention can be drawn to that in the hope of having a different outcome. But to our knowledge and based on our investigation, none of those things have actually happened. We do have a transgender student at the high school and she has been using the women’s restroom. There has not been a situation.”
That hasn’t stopped the story from spreading like wildfire, including at least one Canadian far-right website. With Bill C-279 proposing to add gender identity to Canadian human rights legislation now winding its way back through the Senate, it will almost certainly come up again.
CBN’s report originated with a far-right ex-gay group called the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a group which has been actively fighting against a recently-passed law in California, AB 1266, which provides protections and accommodation for trans students. Along with several other anti-LGBT groups, PJI is trying to mount up a petition effort similar to the Proposition 8 campaign, to put this law on the ballot and ultimately repeal it.
JPI is continuing to insist that the student in question (who is not being named) was harassing other girls in the washroom.
Because the student was there.
After the original story was debunked, PJI’s spokesperson wrote that:
“It is our position that the intrusion of a biological male into a restroom for teenage girls is inherently intimidating and harassing…”
Transadvocate has continued to document PJI’s changing talking points and positions and grilled the group’s spokesman, staff attorney Matthew McReynolds, in an interview. From these, we discover that PJI’s statements on the issue involve a lot of playing with language, such as using the fact that the student has recently started transition (and is therefore in that awkward phase in which her gender expression is interpreted differently by different people) to claim that she appears sometimes as female and sometimes as male — as though she’s switching back and forth at whim.
TA also interviewed the family of the teen at the centre of the controversy, to finally get her side of the story. Not surprisingly, it turns out that she has been the target of threats since the controversy first began. But it’s not all bad news, either. Several schoolmates and their families have stood up for the student, as well:
A female student from Florence High School who wished to remain anonymous said “[PJI is] so pathetic. My mom asked me about this whole thing when she saw it on the news, and I told her. She even said they were being dramatic.”
In a printed letter to the editor in the town’s local paper, the Canon City Daily Record, a woman named Dara Hoffman-Fox wrote to say, “This is a local teenager whose life has been turned upside down by just a few people who fear what they do not know.” The letter went on to say that PJI’s story “has since been proven false and media outlets around the world are providing apologies for having printed [false accusations] without having the facts confirmed. Sadly, the damage is done.”
Additionally, the students of Florence High School have organized their own group to support [name withheld].
Debunked or not, the issue is likely only to intensify. The battle over California’s AB 1266 is bringing out rhetoric like one campaigner’s assertion that trans student accommodation is “the most dangerous bit of legislation against the child and against family than any other in the history of the United States,” and petition gatherers are deliberately misleading members of the public, while collecting signatures. One religious leader is even accusing the teen in Colorado of “raping, at least visually, these teenage girls” by being present in a locker room… no actual malfeasance required.
And transphobic groups are starting to follow that lead, and portray any instance in which trans women in womens’ spaces as being harassment or disturbing people, regardless of whether or not the person in question actually did anything.
Simply existing and traveling about in public is the new harassment.
And portraying a trans teen as a predator is somehow accepted as not.