The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a group that bills itself as “Defending Religious Freedom, Parental Rights, and Other Civil Liberties,” is well known for defending ex-gay therapy and fighting California’s LGBT-inclusive laws. Now it has a new target: a trans teenager from Colorado.
Earlier this month, the Pacific Justice Institute claimed that a transgender girl from Florence High School in Colorado was harassing teenage girls after being allowed to use the female restrooms. The PJI sent a letter to the school demanding that the girls in question be accommodated and not have to share these facilities. For reasons that will quickly become apparent, we will refer to the trans girl simply as Jane Doe. Jane is 16.
The story quickly went viral among conservative news outlets, with CBN picking up the story, then the UK’s Daily Mail and then Fox News Nation promoting it, among many others. There’s just one problem: all of these news outlets failed to actually speak to the school in order to verify that any such harassment incident had occurred.
Fortunately, Cristan Williams (no relation) at TransAdvocate did go to the school on this and got the real story. Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti told Williams that the story in fact centers on one parent being against Jane Doe’s having access to the bathroom that aligns with her gender identity and not any actual incident of harassment:
Nothing has actually been verified with us. 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.
A number of the media outlets that originally reported on this have now either pulled the story, as did the Daily Mail, or have printed a retraction. Fox News and CBN have not. The Fox News Nation article has attracted comments that she be beaten and killed — therein showing just how this story has fed into anti-trans bias and the massively disproportionate violence the trans community faces.
Did this revelation lead to the PJI recanting? No. Instead, they have been “clarifying” to many ultra conservative news sites that a trans girl simply using the same bathroom as other girls is “harassing” because it somehow stifles those who disagree with trans access.
“First of all, it’s our position that a teenage boy’s [sic] presence into the bathroom for teenage girls is inherently harassing,” said McReynolds, who is representing the families of the girls involved. “It’s inherently violative of their privacy rights. It’s also intimidating when you have a boy [sic] like this, who is not a freshman, going in there with younger freshman girls. They feel violated. They feel intimidated, and that’s been expressed to us.”
The media ambush has taken such a toll on Jane Doe that her family has now revealed to the TransAdvocate she has been put on suicide watch.
In the wake of such fierce criticism we might think the Pacific Justice Institute would be contrite, but no. In its latest release, the PJI appears to be playing the victim card:
“Since we first broke this story, it has been shocking to see the lengths to which school officials and LGBT activists have gone to suppress the truth,” stated Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute. ”We have now received a large and growing stack of hate mail from supposedly tolerant LGBT supporters, most of which is based on unquestioning faith in school officials who have proved to be untrustworthy. It is increasingly apparent that school officials and LGBT activists are on an all-out mission to discredit our clients rather than deal with the serious problems they have identified with a biologically teenage boy sharing bathrooms with their teenage daughters. These new developments only stiffen our resolve and renew our focus to seek a balanced solution that honors the rights and needs of all students.”
The PJI is claiming that the school has attempted to shut-down students “speaking out” by threatening them with suspension from the athletics team and by telling the kid’s parents that their social media may be monitored by the police. They have provided no evidence or context for these allegations.
What this case appears to amount to is a systematic campaign of vilification by a group of adults so that the PJI can bolster its anti-trans interests and specifically a campaign to repeal California’s AB 1266, the law signed earlier this year by Governor Jerry Brown that writes into statute what was common among many school district policies: that trans students be given the right to use all school services and access programs, including bathrooms and sports teams respectively, that comport with their gender expression and not their birth assigned sex.
The effort to put the issue before voters at the 2014 November ballot has been sponsored by an organized group of religious conservatives and is backed by groups like the National Organization for Marriage and several other campaign groups that were instrumental in the Proposition 8 ballot initiative to define away marriage equality, and the unsuccessful bid to place California’s LGBT-inclusive FAIR Education Act on the ballot.
The campaign, Privacy for All Students, is relying heavily on the meme that girls will be sexually abused and harassed by teenage boys masquerading as female in order to enter female restrooms. There is no evidence that any policy creating trans access to gender-aligned facilities has created such an incident in any California school. Despite this, the campaign is said to have gained significant ground over the past few weeks, with a number of churches signing up to the petition drive.
The PJI, in pushing its naked agenda here, has successfully and shamefully stirred up anti-trans bias and the product of that is clear: a gathering storm of animus that not only threatens trans rights in California, but the safety and very lives of trans people throughout the country.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.