Jewlyes Gutierrez (wearing white blouse) is surrounded by her loving family.

Transgender Law Center is calling upon the Contra Costa County District Attorney to drop battery charges against Jewlyes Gutierrez, a transgender student from Hercules, California. Sign the petition asking the District Attorney to drop the charges against Jewlyes.

Gutierrez had been the victim of severe bullying and, after repeatedly asking her school to address the bullying, she felt like she had no choice except to take her defense into her own hands. Now the District Attorney has decided that she will be charged with battery because she defended herself. (videos below)

“The District Attorney has discretion to decide whether or not to bring charges,” said Ilona Turner, Transgender Law Center Legal Director. “We call on him to drop these criminal charges immediately and instead to work with the families and students involved to find an alternative means of resolving their conflict without putting an already vulnerable young person through a criminal prosecution.”

Transgender students like Gutierrez face extraordinarily high rates of bullying and harassment in schools. In fact, a recent survey conducted by GLSEN found that 89% of transgender students were harassed at school. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that among transgender students who had been bullied, harassed, or assaulted while they were in school, half reported having attempted suicide.

Transgender Law Center encourages law enforcement officials and communities to join together to find resolutions to avoid suspending students or sending students to jail. Such alternative resolution processes are commonly referred to as “restorative justice.”

This approach is consistent with the recent school discipline guidance issued on January 8, 2014 by the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education (.pdf). The guidance cites research linking the increasing use of disciplinary sanctions such as referrals to law enforcement authorities with the potential for significant negative outcomes, including placing students in the “school to prison pipeline.”

Gutierrez is represented by Public Defender Kaylie Simon, who said, “Just because the District Attorney’s office can prosecute something doesn’t mean they should, or that it’s in the best interest of a child and society to pursue. If we take a step back and look at what are our community’s needs and society’s needs, it would be something much different from becoming a delinquent in the court system. That can cause more harm than good. I also wonder what message does it send to people who bully when someone who is a victim is prosecuted?”

“We applaud West Contra Costa School Board President Charles Ramsey for speaking out against this criminal charge and for working to adopt new anti-bullying policies,” said Masen Davis, Transgender Law Center Executive Director. “We send our love and support to Jewlyes and her wonderfully supportive family. This young person deserves to have a safe place to learn and a fair chance to succeed in school—just like every other student.”

Jewlyes’ sister Valerie is one of her biggest supporters. “I am proud of Jewlyes for standing up for herself. These bullying experiences can be very traumatizing for anyone,” Valerie said. “Thank you to everyone who has been joining my family in supporting Jewlyes. All youth need to be supported and feel safe at home and at school.”

Valerie has started a petition asking the District Attorney to drop the charges against Jewlyes, available to sign here.

For more information please contact Mark Snyder, Communications Manager, / 617.416.0552.