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Transgender Student May Face Criminal Charges After Fighting Off Bullies

If convicted, Jewlyes Gutierrez faces a year in a juvenile detention center for boys.
 
 
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Photo Credit: screenshot (CBS Local)

 

When 10th grader Jewlyes Gutierrez, a transgender student, stood up to three bullies at her high school in November, all four students were suspended.

The incident made some  local news. Gutierrez, 16, said she had asked an assistant principal at Hercules High School for help with chronic bullying a few days earlier, and gotten none. A school board meeting on December 2 focused on the incident. As the semester wound down, it seemed the story would stay in Hercules, California.

But a few weeks later, Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Daniel Cabral charged Gutierrez with misdemeanor battery. The charge came just months after California governor Jerry Brown passed a law enacting transgender student rights, making California the first state to enshrine certain protections to transgender students.

Now, a  petition—“Drop charges against transgender teen defending herself!”—has become one of the fastest growing petitions on Change.org, collecting more than 168,000 signatures since January 7.

The alleged battery took place on November 13, 2013. Gutierrez is accused of slapping another student. 

On top of the petition, which was created by Gutierrez’s sister, supporters have sent Daniel Cabral more than 50 letters demanding that he dismiss the case. That could happen at a pre-trial conference scheduled for February 5, according to Kaylie Simon, Gutierrez’s attorney.

This is the first time Gutierrez has been charged with a crime. If convicted, Simon says, the maximum time she could face is one year, which might be served at a juvenile hall or a group home. She could also be sentenced to the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility, or Byron Boys Ranch, which is a minimum security juvenile detention center. As the name suggests, the facility is for boys.

Simon is hoping to avoid an outcome like this. In fact, she and Cabral are considering a restorative justice approach that would avoid the court altogether.

“I think the petition and community support has been important for Jewlyes personally to see that so many people have her back and understand why bringing this case forward is unjust,” Simon said.

Jennifer Lopez, a journalist with the magazine  Everything Transgender in NYC, brought to light one part of that injustice. In an  interview with the TransAdvocate, Lopez recounted a conversation she had with Connie Van Putten of the Hercules Police Department.

Van Putten told Lopez “the transgender person is listed as a male on school records, therefore she would refer to the transgender person as a male,” Lopez said.

“Because [Gutierrez] is listed as a male, [Van Putten] did not identify [Gutierrez] as a transgender person," Lopez reported. Van Putten then told Lopez that because Gutierrez was listed as male in these records, she "would not be able to fall under hate crime [protections].”

Gutierrez still attends Hercules High, along with the other students from the incident.

"I feel negative attention and energy around them," Gutierrez said in an interview with the  Bay Area Reporter.

“Just because you’re different you’ll get picked on, name-calling, bullied, taunted, harassed, all those,” Gutierrez told NBC Bay Area in December. “I was just sticking up for myself.”

Yael Chanoff is a political reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her on twitter @yaelnc.