Lessons of The Colorado “Trans Bathroom Harassment” Hoax

“It’s a liberal world gone mad at one Colorado high school, where the rights of one transgender student have trumped the rights of other students forced to share a bathroom. The transgender student, a male who identifies himself as a female, has sexually harassed female students in the girl’s bathroom at Florence High School, Pacific Justice Institute reported.Not only have parents’ complaints gone nowhere, but the female students have also been threatened with dismissal from athletic teams and hate crimes charges if the complaints don’t stop, according to the institute, a nonprofit religious-rights organization that was alerted by concerned parents.”


"Jane Doe": Victim

“Jane Doe”: Victim

This was the story breathlessly reported in various forms this month by conservative media sources, including Fox News. Apparently the sole source for the claim that “a male who identifies himself as a female, has sexually harassed female students in the girl’s bathroom” is the statement that this “allegedly occurred” in a letter to the school sent by the aggressively anti-transgender, ultra-conservative advocacy group, The Pacific Justice Institute.  The PJI has prominently opposed California’s transgender bathroom law, and it seem clear that it viewed this story as a means to an end.

In a case of the conservative media playing the old game of “Telephone,” the PJI letter suggesting that such harassment may have happened was morphed into media reports that it had happened, as Fox, the Examiner, The Blaze and others adopted the story published by the online version of British tabloid, The Daily Mail, as fact. It wasn’t fact, and the Daily Mail has quietly pulled its original story. What appears to have happened is that some virulently anti-trans parents who were livid that the school permitted a boy who self-identified as female to use the female rest rooms contacted the PJI with unsubstantiated and apparently fictional claims, in order to focus hostile attention on the school. Interviewed about the incident, the school’s superintendent flatly denied that any incidents of the kind hinted at by the PJI and reported in the media actually occurred, and to this day, no evidence has been presented that they did occur, no specifics, names, quotes or facts whatsoever, just vague allegations. One student in the school provided this perspective:

“As a Christian girl who attends FHS, I’d just like to say that I’ve never been harassed by this individual not have I ever seen him harass anyone else. He’s actually shy and a nice person. Do I think he should be able to use the girls bathroom? I’m torn. He either uses our bathroom and makes MAYBE 30% of the girls uncomfortable, or he uses the boy’s restroom and gets beat up. I don’t feel uncomfortable by him. Also, there are a lot of holes in this story. No parents initially complained. There was a mass Facebook message that included 150+ students and parents, outing him publicly. It was such a big deal, all electronic devises were confiscated if seen that day. THEN it was a problem and parents complained. This boy wasn’t treated fairly. As a Christian, I had to put the truth out there. He didn’t hurt or harass anyone.”

Now the transgender student, known in the media as “Jane Doe,” is being insulted, threatened and harassed, and has shown  suicidal tendencies. She is undergoing treatment for emotional distress. No wonder. One section of the national media, based on nothing but innuendo, has accused her of being not only a harasser, but a crazy harasser, which is what any transgender teen who used her privilege of using the Ladies Room to make offensive comments to other students would be. The story never made any sense, unlike this one, on a similar theme. Never mind, though: given their cue, plenty of readers were ready to advocate violence against an innocent student. Here is a sample of the worst of the comments on the Fox News story (there are many more):

fox anti-trans 1fox7 2fox8fox9

Some Ethics Alarms observations on a disturbing incident that has managed to mislead the public, slander the transgendered, and harm an innocent teen:

  • However one may feel about the question of transgender rights, simply mandating that boys who identify as girls should be able to use the female rest rooms without school and community-wide training, discussion, and a full public vetting of the issues and concern involved is irresponsible, and ultimately unfair to the students.
  • Advocates for the transgendered, which should be all of us, need to recognize that attitudes change slowly, that the conviction that a cause is just and has always been so does not, can not and will not alter entrenched attitudes that were taken for granted as not only reasonable but obviously so just a few years ago, and  a peaceful and productive cultural evolution cannot be willed, forced, or accomplished by decree. As abolition, Prohibition, integration, and Roe v. Wade have shown, and even the Affordable Care Act may show yet, laws that sufficient numbers of the public believe are wrong can tear the country apart even after a long period of debate and public information. In the case of transgendered rights, we haven’t had sufficient of either to just send vulnerable children into the maw of hostility with only a law to protect them.
  • The conservative news media utterly disgraced itself this time. A press release from a hard ideological organization with a track record of intolerance is not something to base a news story on without significant factual back-up and supporting sources.
  • The story spread because the conservative editors of conservative news media assumed that it was bound to happen, that trans students are all really sneaky perverts. A competent and trustworthy news organization recognizes the power of confirmation bias, knows what ideological biases exist in the news organization that make it vulnerable to confirmation bias, recognize the potential news stories that risk exploiting that vulnerability, and check those especially thoroughly.
  • That didn’t happen at Fox, the Examiner, the Daily Mail and the others…because they are not competent and trustworthy news organizations.
  • This is a journalism-wide train wreck, for this reason: the left-news media/right-news media dichotomy should not exist, and it leads to this kind of damaging fiasco. If the right-tilted news media didn’t believe that it had a duty to pounce on legitimate stories the left-tilted media intentionally ignore to further ideological goals (rather than their proper journalistic mission, to inform the public, whatever the news brings), it wouldn’t be vulnerable to creeping hoaxes like this. If the left-tilted media properly covered such a story, investigated if fairly, as journalists should, and found it to be lacking in credibility, the bias on the right wouldn’t cause so much harm.
  • Whole swathes of the intelligent public distrusts and refuses to believe one half of the news media, while the half that is believed is equally untrustworthy. The situation is untenable, and only journalists can address it. I see no indication that they are inclined to do so, or capable of it.
  • In cases like this (and there are far too many cases like this) where the news media doesn’t just get a story wrong but misleads the public and helps sew harmful attitudes and misinformation—the most recent left-biased news media example was the identification of the weapons used in the D.C. Navy Yard shooting, but the World Champion remains the despicable initial reporting of the circumstances surround Trayvon Martin’s death—there should be high-profile retractions, apologies, and repair, not merely quiet removal of false stories, online edits, in conspicuous corrections, and a slow slide to the truth. Every news organization should be required to pledge that when they run with false stories like this, the corrections must be the lead story, the front page, the first broadcast, beginning with the admission: “WE MISLED YOU, WE WERE UNPROFESSIONAL, AND WE BEG YOUR FORGIVENESS.”
  • Then they can start making it up to their victims, and stop using the First Amendment to duck accountability.
  • Non-profit advocacy groups that use their reputations and influence to stampede the incompetent news media to misinform the public for strategic ideological purposes must also be held accountable. The Pacific Justice Institute, if it has any integrity, would have corrected the first news report that took  “alleged” out of the story it spread. Clearly it does not have integrity, or compassion, and is perfectly happy to see a teen’s life disrupted and existence made the target of vicious hate to further its agenda.
  • Former Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese, who is 82 years old and who is on more boards than he can possibly attend to, allows his name to appear on the letterhead of the Pacific Justice Institute, lending the organization credibility that he almost certainly can’t vouch for in reality. I’d be willing to bet that he knows little or nothing of this episode. If he does, he is accountable.
  • If he doesn’t, he is accountable.
  • If there were a fair and balanced news media in this country that cared to point out its own failures and address the damage, this episode of news media incompetence would itself be a news story, and an important one.

But there isn’t.


Pointer: Zoe Brain

Sources:Toweler RoadSoundcloud, Transadvocate, Fox News, BizBac Review, Advocate



10 thoughts on “Lessons of The Colorado “Trans Bathroom Harassment” Hoax

    • Thank Zoe Brain, Barry—she found the links and alerted me, plus kept reminding me to focus on it. Here’s the irony—I get most of my news from the liberal media, so I end up being more tuned in to its outrages, and thus appear to you as if I’m giving the conservative media a pass. Keep those stories coming, folks!

    • Cute. What you fail to grasp is that Jack has not once shown a proclivity towards bias. That you see his unbiased attitude towards ethical miscreance as right leaning ought to be a wake up call for introspection.

      I wonder if it is worthy of noting that not one of the conservatives, right-wingers or Republicans who frequent this blog have jumped up in knee-jerk defense of the right-leaning media in this instance?

      How many posts discussing ethical malpractice by the MSM has drummed out legions of left-wing knee-jerk rationalizers, spinners and almost programmatic defenders of the indefensible?

  1. We, as a society, should have learned long ago from the debacle that followed by the allegations by Charles Stuart and Susan Smith.

    A while ago, there was this case of a man who allegedly beat to death another man he caught sexually abusing his young daughter. I was not quick to label him a hero, even though the evidence eventually proved his allegations as true. I certainly would not have supported a pre-emptive pardon at the time the allegations first surfaced. (of course, i would not have supported prosecution for criminal homicide unless the evidence contradicted the allegation.)

    I also recall a picture being shared on Facebook which was allegedly a picture of a man being hung in Iran for practicing Christianity. It later turned out the man in the photo was hung for murder.

    However one may feel about the question of transgender rights, simply mandating that boys who identify as girls should be able to use the female rest rooms without school and community-wide training, discussion, and a full public vetting of the issues and concern involved is irresponsible, and ultimately unfair to the students.

    I know that when I was in high school, a boy who insisted on using the girls’ restrooms and locker rooms on the basis that he felt like a girl would have been chased out by the girls with sticks and bricks.

    This begs a very important question. If sex really is just a feeling, and not a substantial physical characteristic, why have sex segregated anything at all?

  2. A few comments –
    1) Christian Broadcasting Service (CBS), Fox News and others have neither retracted the story nor removed it, despite being informed that it’s false in both substance and in several technical areas. For example, this trans girl transitioned two years ago, she is not “a boy who sometimes dresses like a girl”.

    2) On the other hand, the San Jose Christian Examiner, after initially and uncritically reporting what the CBS had said (they considered it a completely reliable source) and with additional rather pungent commentary, subsequently fact-checked and retracted with apologies. They left the story up as a badge of dishonour, but prefaced it with words that did indeed amount to “WE MISLED YOU, WE WERE UNPROFESSIONAL, AND WE BEG YOUR FORGIVENESS.”. I therefore nominate them for an Ethics Hero award – section “What to do when you screw up by the numbers”.

    3) Regarding timing –

    At first we had our concerns. Would letting students participate in activities and facilities that were consistent with their gender identities create problems? What would happen? And, ultimately we decided that we as the adults needed to manage our fears and give the students the respect and dignity that they deserved. And I’m pleased to say none of our fears have been materialized. Our transgender students use facilities, participate in gym class and play on sports teams in a way that corresponds with their gender identity.

    We treat our transgender students — our boys, our transgender boys and girls — simply like any other boys and girls with the same rights and responsibilities, rules, and obligations.

    In the eight years that we’ve had our policy we’ve not had any problems. On the contrary, it has solved many problems. It’s a nonissue on our campuses. Our transgender students use the bathrooms for the same reasons as everybody else. They do their business, fix their hair and make-up, and gossip with friends.

    So when we instituted this policy we had no idea how many students that this would effect. In 2011, we conducted a survey in conjunction with the YRBS, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, and we learned that point-five percent of our students self-identified as transgender. In a district of our size, that’s about thirty-five-hundred students. We were shocked. We had no idea that we had that many transgender students.

    For most of them, this is their private secret. But, we want them to know that we’re here for them whenever they’re ready.

    — Judy Chiasson, Ph.D., a Program Coordinator for Human Relations at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD):

    Exactly the same argument about timing could be, and no doubt was, made regarding desegregation in schools. That was an even tougher issue. While the argument has some merit, the problem is that there will never be a right time.

    Policies similar to that of Colorado and California have been in place in many ultra-conservative parts of the country. In Texas for example, in Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Dallas and Ft. Worth. Such policies have been in place for decades now in some places.

    4) Finally… I’m not objective, I’m a player in this. You have to treat everything I say in that light – not so much what I’ve said, as what I’ve left unsaid. For example, I know of exactly one incident which the Advocates for Faith and Freedom promise that they will initiate a lawsuit over any day now, one investigated by the police and found without substance (one anonymous tip vs several sworn statements to the contrary) – so to say “there have been no incidents in LA county” is not technically correct. There has been one alleged incident, once.


    • “For example, this trans girl transitioned two years ago, she is not “a boy who sometimes dresses like a girl”.”

      What do you mean by “transitioned?”

      If that means undergoing sex-change surgery, isn’t it illegal to do that to a minor?

      • I’m not privy to her medical records, and wouldn’t release them if I were.

        I can make some educated guesses though. From appearance, she must be on puberty blockers (Ok, there’s a possibility she’s Intersex and won’t need them), and probably hormones. The timing is right for that, age, tanner stage, time elapsed since transition. The “final touches” will have to wait till she’s 18, by custom if not by law, in the US.

        I know one girl who had surgery when she was 18 (in Thailand) but still 17 and 364 days old in the US, an interesting legal issue.

        Nonconsensual sex assignment surgery is routinely carried out on Intersex infants and even teens in the USA even now. Sometimes with neither the parents knowledge or consent, almost never with their informed consent. Parents who object are sometimes referred for psychiatric treatment. (I know I’m going to be accused of gilding the lilly on that one – but the reference is Georgiann Davis, ‘”DSD is a perfectly fine term”: reasserting medical authority through a shift in intersex terminology‘, Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 12, 2011, p. 176. — quoted in “Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia” Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee Report detailing overseas practice).

        So while it may not be illegal.. no competent surgeon in North America will do it, nor any outside unless they’re satisfied it’s both ethical, and also legal in the country of the patient’s residence.

        Surgery is not a legal requirement for recognition in a growing number of jurisdictions. On the other hand, in France a woman was denied recognition solely because her bust size wasn’t at least a C cup. Tennessee doesn’t recognise changes under any circumstances. The UK grants recognition even without surgery, unless Intersex is involved, where recognition is always refused, surgery or no surgery. So YMMV.

        The medical protocols for transition in minors involve a multi-year period of living in the target gender role – fulltime, 24/7, without breaks – including using appropriate restrooms – before surgery can be authorised. For adults, the period is one year.

        Perhaps this photo will help clarify the true situation:

        Now according to the PJI that is not a group of teenage girls. It is at least one teenage boy, possibly more than one, harassing the rest.

        Biologically speaking – and bear in mind I don’t have access to her medical records – from a purely medical point of view, an average patient with her medical history would be medically</i more female than many who were born with female birth certificates, and recognised without question as being female.

        Ideologically, legally etc – that's another matter, and a very contentious one. Practically though, she's a girl. That's the bottom line. Not just my opinion – see
        Good practice guidelines for the assessment and treatment of adults with gender dysphoria 2013-1-25 Royal College of Psychiatrists
        as endorsed by:
        British Association of Urological Surgeons
        British Psychological Society
        Gender Identity Research and Education Society
        Gender Trust
        Press for Change
        Royal College of General Practitioners
        Royal College of Nursing
        Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
        Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health*
        Royal College of Physicians
        Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists
        Royal College of Surgeons
        UK Council for Psychotherapy

        and equivalent statements by:

        American Medical Association,
        American Psychological Association,
        American Academy of Family Physicians,
        National Association of Social Workers,
        World Professional Association for Transgender Health,
        National Commission on Correctional Health Care,
        American Public Health Association,
        American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

  3. Some of the allegations by the PJI might be explicable. They have what has to be a very, very bright attorney, Mr Matthew McReynolds, on the case.

    He managed to pass the California Bar Exam despite his “law degree” being from an unaccredited diploma-mill, and apparently having no other academic credentials. That takes a keen intellect – and $16000 for the correspondence course materials. ($4000 a year for 4 years).


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