Anti-LGBTQ group admits it lied about transgender student "harassing" classmates

The Pacific Justice Institute concocted a story to stoke anti-trans sentiment and turned a teenager into a target

Published October 21, 2013 9:29PM (EDT)

    (<a href=' '> Jenny Woodworth </a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
( Jenny Woodworth via Shutterstock)

Last week, anti-LGBTQ group the Pacific Justice Institute started a conservative media firestorm with its claim that a transgender teenager in Colorado was "harassing" her classmates in the girls' bathroom. The allegations, after being picked up by Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, were quickly debunked by a transgender advocacy group that reached out to the school's superintendent, who explained that no harassment had occurred. In reality, the complaint stemmed from one area mother who objected to the school's policy allowing transgender students to use facilities that correspond to their gender identity.

After having its lie exposed, PJI issued a statement explaining that the very presence of a transgender teenager in the girls' bathroom is "inherently intimidating and harassing," and, in a separate statement, said the organization would be "standing by our allegations."

“The core issue is that this school is giving this transgender youth full access to both boys’ and girls’ facilities, and they are showing little if any regard for the privacy rights of other students," PJI staff attorney Matthew McReynolds told the National Review. "We have received additional reports of specific, inappropriate statements made by this student, and we are working to corroborate those reports.”

As a result of PJI's false accusations, a 16-year-old girl became a national target for transphobic vitriol, harassment and death threats. This weekend, her family spoke with the Transadvocate about the experience and the toll its taken on their daughter:

My wife and I were visiting my sister who was in the hospital while my daughter was in school. The principal called to inform me that a newscaster was at the school and wanted to interview me about my daughter’s "bathroom rights" -- this was the first I’d heard about any of this. From what I understand, the school didn’t even know. From what I was told, some adults tried to hold a rally protesting my daughter in a town close to ours, but only a couple of people showed up, so the news crew went to the school and the school called me to say that the news crew was showing up to talk about my daughter.

I didn’t want our daughter to be left there alone, so we headed to the school. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I knew they were coming for my daughter. I had no idea who started this, but we had we had to be there.

I know my daughter. She’s a shy and timid person. It was upsetting. As a matter of fact, before we moved to this town, she was afraid that she would be bullied at school. She had a fear that if she went to this new school, something would happen and she wouldn’t be safe.

I reassured her. I told her that everything was going to be fine and to not worry … We’re going through a lot.


Jane is private about everything. She’s timid and shy and tends to be afraid to talk to people. That they’re saying that she’s going around harassing people … it’s just not true. The people who are doing these stories need to realize that the kid behind these stories has feelings and gets hurt.

You can listen to Jane's mother (Transadvocate has identified the student as "Jane Doe" to protect her anonymity) give an emotional account of the experience here:

h/t ThinkProgress

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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