NEW YORK, Jan. 10, 2014 GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is calling on the Contra Costa County, Calif., district attorney's office to drop charges against a bullied transgender student, Jewlyes Gutierrez, who was the only student charged in an alleged altercation on campus with three other students, all of whom were suspended. Mobile phone video of the altercation shows Gutierrez, who had been harassed by the students, at one point even trying to get away from the other students who pursued and continued the assault.
Contra Costa Unified School District President Charles Ramsey has also called on the district attorney to drop the battery charge.
"We are outraged by the district attorney's office's decision to charge Jewlyes Gutierrez with a crime," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. "GLSEN calls on the district attorney to drop the charges and explain why a bullied transgender student was targeted in this case. Racism and transphobia are scourges in our schools. GLSEN stands with Jewlyes Gutierrez and her family as we continue to fight for transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual students across the country unfairly singled out for harsh discipline and outrageous criminal jeopardy.
"We also applaud Contra Costa School Board President Charles Ramsey, who clearly understands the problem and what must be done."
Gutierrez said she has experienced bullying for the past two years because of her gender identity. She approached a vice principal about the harassment before the altercation, but she said he did not adequately address the issue. Gutierrez then confronted the three other students suspended in the altercation.
According to Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Students in Our Nation's Schools, a 2009 GLSEN report, 89% of transgender students experienced verbal harassment at school in the past year, 55% experienced physical harassment and 28% were physically assaulted.
Additionally, only 33% of transgender students who reported an incident to their school said school officials took effective actions to address the incident. GLSEN research has found that LGBT students sometimes do not report incidents because they fear retribution from their harassers. Some LGBT students were even punished by school officials when they did report.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released guidelines for schools to address the discriminatory and disproportionate discipline that students of color face in school, often called the "school-to-prison pipeline." Research shows that LGBT students, who were not specifically mentioned in the guidelines, are also discriminated against and treated more harshly in disciplinary situations.
"This case is a travesty, and a stark example of how LGBT students, particularly LGBT students of color, are forced into the 'school-to-prison pipeline,'" Byard said. "Ironically, this egregious case has come to light only two days after the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued guidelines on school discipline and school climate designed to move schools away from the biased criminalization of student behavior and toward productive learning cultures of respect for all.
"GLSEN was part of the process that led to that important step forward, and we continue to press for even clearer statements of existing protections for LGBT students under federal law, and new legislation and policy to ensure that the full framework is in place for true LGBT student safety and access. Zero-tolerance policies must go. Differential discipline must end. We must build healthy school communities where LGBT students and all students of color are fully embraced and supported, free from fear and free to thrive."
In addition, Gutierrez's sister has created an online petition calling on the district attorney to drop the charges.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org .