Jewlyes Gutierrez, an open transgender student in Contra Costa County, has been the center of constant harassment and bullying by her peers. Gutierrez has been charged with misdemeanor battery for defending herself against a physical attack by three girls at Hercules High School that took place on November 13. The dispute surrounding the incident has fueled national headlines and sparked an online petition in support of Gutierrez. Family members and supporters are encouraging the Contra Costa County Superior Court to drop the criminal charges against the transgender teen.
Whether the students targeted this girl because she is transgender or for some unknown reason, filing charges against her sends the wrong message to LGBTQ youth. Putting an already vulnerable person through criminal prosecution does not solve the problem. We must look into what the causation for the attack was and start there. Because the school administration did not properly address the situation and no necessary action was put in place to safeguard her, Gutierrez was forced to take matters into her own hands. No student should be in fear of their physical safety due to who they are.
Violence against LGBTQ youth is a serious problem. As a student who lives and attends school in Contra Costa County, I found it worrisome to hear the news of an individual being a victim of bullying and facing harsh penalties for standing up for herself, with no similar claim taken against the attackers. It is already difficult for any student to stand up against bullies. Tackling violence in schools is not a ‘first step’ that has the potential to launch more conversation; it is, right now, an eclipsing step, that has allowed us to overlook the core causes of harassment faced by LGBTQ youth.
No youth should feel the need to use brute force to protect themselves. School should be a safe and inclusive environment for every student. Hopefully Gutierrez will find justice, but sadly her situation is all too similar to the many struggles faced by LGBTQ youth across the nation. This incident serves as a teachable lesson to value and respect all individuals regardless of their sexuality or gender identity and expression.
Matthew Y. is a high school junior and a GLSEN Student Ambassador.