An anti-transgender group in Washington state is using a recent alleged assault against a woman in a public bathroom to raise money for its ballot initiative campaign, according to the Seattle Stranger. The woman, who says she fought off her attacker and locked him in the bathroom until police arrived, has demanded that the group make a public retraction and refund any money sent in through the fundraising email that used her story.
Kelly Herron was using a restroom in a public park on March 5 when a man, who’d previously been convicted of sex crimes, allegedly pushed her to the ground and attempted to rape her. Herron later posted on Instagram that she was “clawing his face, punching back, and desperately trying to escape his grip,” screaming “not today, motherfucker!” when she got away. Her story got a lot of media coverage because her fitness tracker recorded her frantic movements during the attack.
A few days later, Just Want Privacy, a group pushing a school-specific ballot initiative that would prevent transgender children from using the restrooms that correspond with their gender identities, used the photo Herron had posted of her injuries in an email to its campaign listserv. “Sadly, what happened to Kelly is hardly rare. Each week yields new stories of deviant men who found ways to access female’s vulnerable spaces in order to exploit them,” said the email from the group behind initiative I-1552. It went on to mock the terminology of gender: “The current rule in Washington grants males unrestricted access to women’s spaces, provided they use just four words: ‘I identify as non-binary.’ Or fluid. Or demigender. Or pangender. Or gender gifted. Or anything they want to declare themselves other than male. Anything goes.”
When Herron found out her experience had been co-opted into a moneymaking scheme, she responded to the group with the same language she used to try to scare her assailant, Gary Steiner. “To the people behind I-1552, I say ‘not today, mutherf*ckers,’” she wrote in a public statement published by the Stranger. “I refuse to allow anyone to use me and my horrific sexual assault to cause harm and discrimination to others.”
“I’m more upset now than I have been all week after seeing that a political group is using my face, my name and my story to fundraise for I-1552, a ballot initiative that deliberately targets and harms transgender people—including friends whom I respect,” Herron wrote. “I-1552’s backers use fear mongering to justify singling out one group, transgender people, for discrimination.”
Of course, no ballot initiative would have prevented Steiner from allegedly attacking Herron, because attempted rape is already illegal. And Steiner did not, emboldened by anti-discrimination laws, pretend to be a trans woman in order to slip unnoticed into the women’s restroom. But using someone else’s tragedy to push for state-sanctioned discrimination is a beloved strategy of groups with hateful agendas. Recall, after the massacre of dozens of LGBTQ people and allies at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, when Donald Trump promised to take action to protect queer people. He didn’t suggest keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers like the shooter or repealing the anti-LGBTQ laws that give homophobes cover for their violence. Instead, Trump used the opportunity to reiterate his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Turning one marginalized group against another—LGBTQ people against Muslims, cis women against trans women—can be an effective way to safeguard systems of power through discrimination. All the credit, then, to the people who turn to solidarity instead: the gays who fought Islamophobia after Orlando, the queer and progressive Muslims who spoke out against homophobia, and Herron, who’s using a platform she gained through a personal tragedy to support someone else.