It would be idiotic to base public policy and political decisions on isolated incidents that happen with extreme rarity, but that is exactly what is going on in Loudoun regarding upcoming state elections. The incidents in question are two sexual assaults on high school students. I have as little knowledge of the facts as anyone not directly involved. Instead, what we have are rumors.
It should go without saying, though in this superheated political atmosphere this needs to be said:
1) There has been no establishment that the assailant was a transgender youth (person assigned as male at birth who now identifies as female). All that has been heard is of a boy “in a skirt.” If I wore a dress, nobody would mistake me for RuPaul.
2) Persons of any gender or identity can and do commit assault.
3) The overwhelming evidence is that those most at risk in this context are transgender persons themselves who are forced to use bathrooms contrary to their gender identity.
4) The converse event, a girl molested by a transgender person, is as rare as hen’s teeth, notwithstanding the widespread prevalence of bathrooms open to all comers.
In the bad old days, racists upheld school segregation under the banner of black boys’ purported threats to white girls. Now instead of black people we have the vilification of transgender persons, about which the average person in this community knows nothing. (See point #1 above.) Today the victimization of two young girls serves purposes quite distinct from justice.
Any assault ought to be prosecuted, without regard for the characteristics of the accused. However, these episodes are being weaponized for partisan political purposes, incidentally with little thought for the well-being of the victim. It does not take much imagination to suspect a young girl would not want her assault to become a local cause celebre.
It is quite possible the handling of this case was bungled by school authorities and perhaps the county sheriff, who are governed in such situations by a thicket of regulations, not always internally consistent ones. It is interesting to note that under the previous president, the U.S. Department of Education promulgated regulations to beef up the rights of those accused of rape — almost always men. Now that the assailant is rumored to be transgender, the script gets flipped, and those same protections of the innocent-until-proven-guilty are criticized.
None of that says anything about the broader politics surrounding the case, which took off here almost 18 months ago around bogus claims about the inculcation of “critical race theory” in the schools. Evidently, transgender persons are the new black.
As in the days of Jim Crow, in this situation the alleged identity of the assailant sets the stage for vilification of an entire class of people. If I rob a bank, does that say something about Polish Americans? In the same vein, nothing that happened here pertains to the oversight of bathrooms in public schools. (The second assault did not start in a bathroom.) So, what is really going on?
This is a replay of hackneyed “law and order” campaigns of days gone by, a tip-off that politicians raising this banner have little of substance to offer voters.
This is an effort to bleed the public schools of enrollees in the name of homeschooling or to promote religious alternative schools, to lay the basis for draining public schools of their funding. Diverting public funds to home schooling or religious schools, such as through tax credits, is not beyond the realm of possibility. For Republicans, the implicit threat to teachers’ unions is icing on the cake.
As with the flap about critical race theory, the hysteria about transgender persons foments an atmosphere that can easily tip into violence and tragedy. If an incident like this can be successfully exploited to stigmatize many innocent people, it is only a matter of time before similar exercises are translated into attacks on people of color and others. In an important sense, transphobia is the proverbial canary in the coalmine, an alarm bell for African Americans, Hispanics, immigrants, gay people, Jews, and Muslims. We are all in the bullseye of right-wing intolerance.
As William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. The past isn’t even past.”