CALIFORNIA, USA – Bullies learned the hard way not to pick on Jewlyes Gutierrez.
For two years, schoolmates had been harassing the Hercules, California, teen for being transgender. (READ: Victories for transgender equality and the long road ahead)
On November 13, 2013, classmates taunted and threatened the daughter of Fernando Poquiz and Debra Gutierrez, and she fought back. What followed next stunned her family.
Her attackers and Gutierrez were suspended, but Gutierrez was the only one who faced criminal charges for battery. Shocked but undaunted, her sister Valerie Poquiz stood up for her and launched an online petition on Change.Org that generated support from 210,000 signers. (READ: Transgender people clamor for equal rights)
“The overarching issue here is the lack of educational programs and resources to create safe spaces, teach tolerance, and implement bully prevention,” Poquiz wrote to the Contra Costa District Attorney (A county in Northern California, USA) in a letter posted online. “I am angered that Jewlyes is being prosecuted as she has already experienced so much hate and indifference by her peers. Prosecuting her teaches her peers and our community nothing except that being homophobic is okay, that discriminating others because they are different is OK, that you can act immorally as long as you don’t initiate being physical.”
Poquiz urged Senior Deputy District Attorney Daniel Cabral to drop the charges.
The case grabbed the attention of rights advocates and legal experts who took up Jewlyes Gutierrez’s cause. Charges were dropped eventually, after everyone involved acknowledged their part and exchanged apologies as part of the Restorative Justice process.
For defending herself, Gutierrez, 16, was honored as a grand marshal at the June 28 Pride Parade in San Francisco.
“This was Jewlyes’ first pride float appearance and she was the youngest grand marshal they’ve had in San Francisco Pride,” Debra Gutierrez told Philippine News.
The retired AT&T project manager, Debra Gutierrez and her partner Fernando Poquiz adopted Jewlyes and her brother Elisha when they were 2 and 1 year old from their biological mother, Debra’s sister Diana Gutierrez, who is coping with health issues. Jewlyes’ biological father is Puerto Rican, said Debra.
Debra and Fernando have two biological daughters. Jewlyes is their youngest. Her mother has a message to families like theirs: “My advice to parents and families of transgender children is to keep an open mind and heart, that your children are already having such a difficult time with their own transition and coming out to their friends and family,” Debra told Philippine News. “Preventing them from expressing themselves is like asking them not to breathe. Transgender children cannot help how they feel inside and who they are. If it’s a phase that they are going through, it will eventually pass. If it’s not, then accept, love, and protect them.”
Debra expressed unconditional love for her daughter.
”I don’t understand why God created them that way; all I know is they are God’s children and have the same rights as everyone else, to live in a safe world. In reality it’s not always the case, like Jewlyes’ , but understanding and loving them will give them the strength, courage and confidence to face the world during the good and bad times. (Watch: #GenderProud: Fil-Am model Geena Rocero comes home)
At Pride, the family rode with allies Contra Costa County Public Defender Kaylie Simon and Robin Lipetzky and Transgender Law Center representative Mark Snyder and Richmond Police Commissioner Nemy Bautista and wife Vicky Baustista .
Jewlyes’ supportive cousin Joey Bautista and the martial artists with Eskabo Daan Martial Arts School in San Francisco won the Marching Parade and aunt Diana Gutierrez received a ribbon for Fabulous Marching Contingent. – Rappler.com
This story was republished with permission from Philippine News, a content partner of Rappler
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