Florence High School (Updated)
The blogosphere of the Christian Right has been actively discussing a case of transgender harassment at the Florence High School in Colorado. You can read all about it here, here, and here. Or you can read about it from the original source piece at the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). In fact, every single piece of reporting I found on this story, was simply a parroting of the original piece from the CBN. The CBN’s source story itself is not exactly brimming with journalism, as there are no details given, with the lone exception that a letter was sent from the Pacific Justice Institue “warning against squelching privacy rights”.
So what’s going on here, how can a have a rational discussion on how to best solve the problems facing the teenage girls of Florence High School who are being harassed by this transgendered individual?
Perhaps there is another way to approach this problem. Begging the question is an informal logical fallacy in which the original assertion that becomes the foundation of the argument is itself is not established as factual or accurate.
In the case of this story, the original underlying assertion is a transgender person was harassing other students in a restroom. There are no facts given to state the exact nature of abuse or harassment. There is no indication if this was the transgendered students first offense, or if there is a history of disruptive behavior from this student. There is no timeframe given for the original assertion. Did this harassment occur last week, last month, last year? What was the prior relationship of the alleged harasser to the students claiming harassment?
Many of the details would of course not be able to be released as all parties involved are most likely minors. However, with basic facts missing, there is no way one can construct a rational opinion based upon facts on the best solution to a problem I’m not even sure actually exists.
Here is where we encounter another logical fallacy, that of the straw man, an argument which distorts a viewpoint into something easier to argue against.
If you take the CBN story at face value, if everything reported in this story is factual and accurate, then it is obvious who is at fault. It is easy to understand and come to agreement that having transgendered students in the bathrooms of the cis-gendered students is only asking for harassment, trouble, and is unfair to the cis-gendered students who feel violated. The implication of this story is that all male to female transgender students are secretly trying to get into the girls bathroom where they can wreak havoc on the purity of the naïve and innocent cis-gendered girls.
It doesn’t take much critical thinking to realize reality is rarely as simple as a straw man argument. Why would the CBN and the PJI make such an argument?
The PJI is currently in the middle of a legal action to overturn California School Bathroom Bill AB 1266 which allows transgender students to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender they identify as. Having a villain to use as an example to voting parents who are on the fence is not out of the realm of possibility, although I must stress, there is purely conjecture on my part.
Whether the events which transpired at Florence High School were in the manner described by the CBN, or if the events that transpired were more innocuous, or perhaps completely fictitious, a discussion needs to take place. We need to decide how we are going to handle the integration of non-binary gender into society at large, including our public school spaces. It’s not going to be an easy discussion to have, too many heels are already dug in deep, and there is a lot of misunderstanding, fear, and downright bigotry to contend with due in no small part to the religious fundamentalists.
However as the Florence High School Student Handbook tells its students:
You have to set goals that are almost out of reach. If you set a goal that is attainable without much work or thought, you are stuck with something below your true talent and potential.
Perhaps we can set a goal of acceptance, and work to make every person understand and feel accepted, regardless of their gender identity.
So it turns out that entire story was fabricated, and as I had guessed (see above story) it was a way to create a strawman argument to build support for their opposition to legislation in California. For a complete breakdown of this story, and interviews from the family of this poor girl follow this link.