Jewelyes Gutierrez (Screenshot)

Transgender teenager faces criminal charges after defending herself against bullies

Jewelyes Gutierrez's lawyer says the charges further victimize her client, who has experienced repeat harassment


Katie McDonough
January 10, 2014 2:21AM (UTC)

A 16-year-old transgender teenager who says she has been repeatedly victimized by other students at her California high school is now facing a criminal charge for defending herself during a confrontation. The students who were allegedly harassing Jewelyes Gutierrez have not been charged.

The incident was captured on cellphone video, according to a report from KTVU.

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"Jewelyes identifies as transgender, and I think that she had been tormented and harassed at school because of how she identifies," said Gutierrez's public defender, Kaylie Simon. "When I initially received this case, I was shocked that the district attorney's office decided to charge Jewelyes."

Gutierrez says she had previously gone to school officials seeking help, but the harassment persisted; when confronted by bullies once again, she says she decided to fight back.

The district attorney's office has not commented on the charges, but West Contra Costa School Board president Charles Ramsey says the case is not "something that should rise the level of where it has to go to the District Attorney's office for prosecution."

"I think by charging her, it sends a message to bullies that you can bully individuals, and that adults will then further victimize the person that you've been tormenting," Simon said of the charge.

According to data from the National Center for Transgender Equality, 82 percent of trans teens report feeling unsafe at school, almost 90 percent report experiencing frequent transphobic harassment, and 44 percent report experiencing physical violence at the hands of their peers.

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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 kmcdonough@salon.com.

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