When a male transgender student of Florence High School, Colo., began allegedly harassing girls in the women’s bathroom, the girls and their families took their concerns to the school. However, school officials reportedly told the girls and their parents that the boy’s rights as a transgender person outweighed the girls’ rights to privacy. It apparently outweighed their desire to not be sexually harassed in public-school restrooms as well. When the girls and their parents continued to voice opposition, school officials further threatened the concerned students that they would be kicked off of athletic teams or charged with hate crimes if they continued to oppose the boy’s “rights.”
The Pacific Justice Institute took up the girls’ cause, sending a strongly worded letter to school officials in an effort to protect students’ privacy and speech rights. “This is a nightmare scenario for the teenage girls—some of them freshmen—and their parents at this school,” wrote the PJI in a press release. “This is exactly the kind of horror story we have been warning would accompany the push for radical transgender rights in schools, and it is the type of situation that LGBT activists have been insisting would not happen.”
“LGBT activists are sacrificing the safety and sanity of our schools to push an extreme political agenda,” Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute said. “This battle is no longer confined to California or Colorado; it is spreading to every part of the nation. It is crucial that we act now to prevent a crippling blow to our constitutional freedoms.”
PJI is demanding that the schools respect privacy rights without forcing girls out of the majority of their restrooms, as the school has suggested.
UPDATE: This post has been altered from its original form. More information on the story follows.
Some news outlets have been reporting that this story is false, prompting multiple retractions and larger controversy. I contacted the Pacific Justice Institute, which represents two concerned families in the case, and was unable to reach Rhonda Vendetti, Florence High School’s superintendent, who will be out of the office for the rest of the week. However, Vendetti previously talked to Cristan Williams of the Transadvocate on the subject, responding to many of the ambiguities in question.
In sum, there is a transgender male student who has been using women’s restrooms at the school. Allegations of sexual harassment have been both made and disputed, and each side has factual disagreements regarding the case. The Pacific Justice Institute stands by its accusations, including that its clients’ privacy rights have been violated, that its clients were directed to forgo access to many locker rooms and restrooms at the school in order to protect their privacy rights, and that its clients have been threatened with retaliation and possible hate-crime charges if they speak out.
Matthew McReynolds, staff attorney for the Pacific Justice Institute, told me that “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. . . . We have received additional reports of specific, inappropriate statements made by this student, and we are working to corroborate those reports.”
“We’re standing by our allegations that our student clients have been threatened with retaliation by school officials for talking about this, including [the threat of] being kicked off athletic teams,” he said. ”[School officials] have also thrown around the notion that hate crimes could be charged against students just for talking about this.”
In the interview Vendetti gave, she said “nothing has actually been verified with [the school]. 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.” According to Vendetti, to the school district’s knowledge and based on their own investigation, none of the alleged actions ever happened. “We do have a transgender student at the high school and she has been using the women’s restroom. . . . There has not been an incident of harassment or anything that would cause any additional concern,” beyond the male student’s using the women’s restroom, she said.
McReynolds told me that PJI sent a letter to the principal of Florence High School, Brian Schipper, requesting that the principal or district “[explain] in detail any factual allegations that you consider to be disputed.” PJI has received an initial response from the school attorney, but contends it was “not really a substantive response.” Schipper could not be reached because of the school’s fall break. The letter was sent on Thursday, October 10, and, as of the afternoon of Wednesday, October 16, PJI has not been notified of any factual disputes.