Trans Teen Charged. Did She Deserve It?

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When Jewlyes Gutierrez came out as transgender, her family stood by her. But things didn't go as well in Hercules High School in California, where Jewlyes attends class. According to a number of news sources, the teenager was charged with battery after an altercation between herself and several other students. None of the other students have been charged.

Many have cried foul, pointing out that Gutierrez was merely defending herself after months of being on the receiving end of bullying. Her requests for help had been ignored by teachers and school administrators.

Dan Cabral, a senior deputy for the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office, defended the decision to charge Jewlyes.

"I can tell you that the juvenile justice system is very different from the criminal justice system," Cabral said to SFGN. "In the juvenile system the goal is to provide care and treatment consistent with what is in the best interest of the minor while also holding them accountable."

Cabral did not address why the other students weren't being charged. Nor did he discuss the details of the case against Gutierrez.

"The case involves juveniles," he said. "These matters are considered confidential pursuant to California Welfare and Institutions Code 827."

Since the charges were brought though there has been significant community outrage. A Change.org petition, posted by Gutierrez' sister Valerie Poquiz, calls upon Cabral to drop the charges.

"Jewlyes defended herself against three girls who were tormenting and then physically attacked her," Poquiz writes. "This was captured on video and you can see Jewlyes trying to run away. One of the girls who attacked Jewlyes repeatedly bullied her, even spitting gum in her face."

As of January 27, the petition received 196,758 signatures.

"We must teach tolerance to our children and eradicate bullying," posted petition signer Avery Leinova of Portland Oregon. "Bullies must be firmly dealt with, and this should include sensitivity training. In this case, Jewlyes Gutierrez is being bullied again, by the DA, who should know better."

"Since when aren't we allowed to defend ourselves?" asks Donna James of Coal Valley, Il.

Many of the signers identified themselves as transgender, saying that they too had been subjected to bullying and abuse.

The petition has drawn support in high places. Trans advocate and GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) are among the organizations standing behind it. The Transgender Law Center issued a statement in support of Jewlyes on it's website.

"Gutierrez has been the victim of severe bullying," the statement reads in part. "After repeatedly asking her school to address the bullying, she felt like she had no choice but to take her defense into her own hands. In a recent survey conducted by GLSEN found that 89% of transgender students were harassed at school.  Half reported having attempted suicide."

California Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla of the 14th District, where Jewlyes lives, wrote a letter to the District Attorney urging that the charges against Gutierrez be dropped. Bonilla shared that letter with SFGN.

"Violence towards transgender and queer youth is a serious problem," writes Bonilla. "I believe that we all need to work together to create educational programs and resources to create safe spaces, teach tolerance, and implement effective bullying prevention practices. I believe that prosecuting Ms. Gutierrez would demonstrate to her peers and our community that intolerance, bullying and discriminating against others because they are different is acceptable."

Kaylie Simon of the Contra Costa County Public Defender's Office told SFGN that the family is not speaking to the press at this time. Simon said that Gutierrez was doing OK.

"By filing charges against Jewlyes, the victimization of her continues," Simon said. "She was and continues to be harassed at school. I think it is important for the community to share with the district attorney their support for Jewlyes."


Greg Kabel

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