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Friday, June 27, 2014

Jewlyes Gutierrez: Mother of Bullied Transgender Teen Talks About Daughter's Journey

Posted By on Fri, Jun 27, 2014 at 2:27 PM

Jewlyes Gutierrez (second from left) and family.
  • Jewlyes Gutierrez (second from left) and family.

A year ago, things weren't looking bright for Jewlyes Gutierrez. The East Bay teen, who identifies as transgender, was facing criminal assault and battery charges after an altercation at Hercules High School, where she's a sophomore. Gutierrez had fought back after enduring months and months of taunts, threats, and bullying from other students.

People across the world expressed outrage when the news media reported that Gutierrez's tormentors were not being charged. Thousands of people -- many of whom were not transgender -- signed a petition asking that the charges against Jewlyes be dropped. Teachers, clergy, and elected officials, including San Francisco's District 9 Supervisor David Campos, stepped up to the plate for Jewlyes.

The charges against Gutierrez were indeed dropped. This Sunday the teenager makes her debut as one of Pride's most eagerly anticipated Grand Marshals. Gutierrez's Mom, Debra Gutierrez, spoke to SF Weekly about Gutierrez's journey, as well as her own.

SF Weekly: Can you share Jewlyes' coming out/transition story?

Debra Gutierrez: In 2012, Jewlyes was in the 8th grade, and started dressing as a girl in school without our knowledge. We noticed she let her hair grow out long from a crew cut and she spent lots of time looking at and grooming herself in the mirror. Per Jewlyes, she would wake up early in the morning and go to school and would change into girl's clothes borrowed from a girlfriend.

During her 8th grace graduation, Jewlyes put on a long gown and make-up and pictures of her were taken and shared by iPhone. In high school, Jewlyes has an older brother, Elisha, who was teased for Jewlyes' behavior for dressing as a girl.

Elisha showed the picture to us and we were speechless. We heard she was dressing, but were not completely convinced.

SF Weekly: What was the family's original reaction?

DG: Anger, numbness, confusion, betrayal, because Jewlyes was exerting her rights in a very mean way. We in turn tried to be firm with her and tried to get her to not dress like a girl. We did not accept it. The transition was very traumatic for all of us. We have known that Jewlyes was different since she was a young child -- it's how she came out that was very exhausting and heartbreaking for us. Jewlyes said she wanted to run away and live with another family because she knew we would not accept her because we are an old-fashioned family and would not understand her and what she was going through.

SF Weekly: What about relatives, neighbors, friends?

DG: Many relatives have accepted Jewlyes slowly, but her grandparents and a few relatives still do not accept her wearing girls clothes and hope she will change. The close neighbors are accepting and friends have accepted her as well and given support. But a few friends have not understood her and would like her to be a whole male.

SF Weekly: As a rule, is the larger LGB community accepting of the Ts?

DG: Yes, the T is accepted and completes the larger LGB community, because they know what it feels like to be different from what society defines as the norm. Where might there be room for improvement in community relations? Keep an open dialogue to learn and get to know each other. To be patient and to emphasize with one another, like putting yourself in the other person's shoes. Try to understand the other person's position and come to common gals.

SF Weekly: Has there been any contact with the girls Jewlyes fought with?

DG: They had meetings at the school and apologized to each other a few days after the incident occurred. In order for the court to drop the case, Jewlyes had to participate in the Restorative Justice process.

SF Weekly: What was Jewlyes' and the family's reaction when the charges were filed?

DG: Jewlyes was very angry that charges were filed and that she was the only one charged. Jewlyes had meltdowns and could not understand the system and was just overwhelmed with the whole process. She could not concentrate in school and was absent a lot. She would lay in bed helpless and talk to her therapist. Jewlyes felt that she just wanted the bullying, threats, and harassment to stop and was just defending herself.

SF Weekly: Were you surprised by the press coverage?

DG: Yes, we were very surprised by the press coverage and the number of signatures on the petition. We are very thankful for the LGBT and various communities that supported Jewlyes. It was very humbling to read the comments and to see the numbers rise.

SF Weekly: What instigated the charges being dropped?

DG: Contra Costa County is a conservative court system. When the charges were dropped we were very happy and felt a big ton of weight off our shoulders.

SF Weekly: How do you feel about Jewlyes being a Pride Grand Marshal?

DG: Mixed emotions because of Jewlyes' age, but at the same time, it came at the right time. We were informed that there were other minors who were Grand Marshals. It was the right time because it kept Jewlyes focused on something positive. Our public defender mentioned that it was a rare opportunity. So we thought, why not give it a try to garnish votes, this would keep Jewlyes' mind occupied.

SF Weekly: What's next for Jewlyes?

DG: Jewlyes wants to get out of Hercules High School. It is still rough for her to attend there. There is still continuing indirect harassment towards her in the classroom.
Long-term goal is to finish high school, and attend college or cosmetology school.

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