A group of parents planned a silent rally outside an Oklahoma school Tuesday morning on a behalf of a transgender 12-year-old who has been subjected to threats of violence.
The school is closed through Wednesday in response to those threats.
The student, identified simply as “Maddie” to protect her identity, has identified as a girl at school for over two years now, but has typically used the staff bathroom to avoid being harassed. However, when she arrived at the newly-reopened middle school building this year, she was reportedly unable to find the staff bathroom and used the girls’ room instead.
Maddie’s mother, Brandy Rose, later clarified to CBS affiliate KXII that Maddie had only used the girls’ room “one single time.”
A parent in the district subsequently found out about that bathroom visit and posted threatening comments in a private Facebook group called “Achille ISD Parent Group,” referring to Maddie in transphobic terms.
“The transgender is already using the girls bathroom,” Jamie Crenshaw wrote before misgendering Maddie several times. “We have been told how the school has gone above and beyond to make sure he [sic] has his [sic] own restroom yet he [sic] is still using the girls.”
Other members of the group piled on with similarly transphobic language. “How old is this thing?” one user asked.
“This thing !!!! I love it,” another person replied. “Got a name 4 it now. Perfect name.”
“This is terrible !!” one user wrote. “Y’all have great kids and a lil half baked maggot is causing them probs. We feel 4 y’all.”
The comments quickly turned to threats of violence. “If he [sic] wants to be a female make him [sic] female,” one user wrote. “A good sharp knife will do the job really quick.”
“Just tell the kids to kick ass in the bathroom and it won’t want come back!!” another suggested.
Another person encouraged a specific student to “whip his [sic] ass until he [sic] quits coming to school.”
This brought tears to my eyes. Right in my backyard. — I need to know how Achille ISD supt., @joy4ok, and other authorities plan to protect this young girl from future violence and abuse. We have a duty to protect our children. #OklaEd @oksde pic.twitter.com/yef863KjOy
— 𝗝𝗼𝘀𝗵𝘂𝗮 𝗦𝗮𝘂𝗲𝗿, 𝗠𝗣𝗔✊🏽🌎 (@JoshuaTSauer) August 12, 2018
Many of the responses seemingly come from individuals who do not have students enrolled in the school and who may not even live in the district.
Nevertheless, the threats triggered alarm bells for school officials. According to Achille superintendent Rick Beene, the school was closed this week after the comments were discovered. The small town has no permit process for demonstrations, and officials weren’t sure who might show up at the school to protest.
“The thought was, for law enforcement, that you can have an opposing group that might be here and that could lead to problems, so law enforcement asked me if we could shut down until Wednesday so they didn’t have to worry about those 360 kids in addition to what they were already having to deal with,” he said.
Beene said he remains committed to a school where “everyone should receive a safe and free education.”
According to Maddie’s mother, Brandy Rose, her daughter has gone from being upbeat and positive to being afraid for her life.
“She’s an awesome kid,” Rose said. “To see any fear in her, I can’t explain how bad that hurts me for them to hurt her.”
Rose has also taken out a protective order against one of the parents who threatened Maddie in the Facebook group.
Several groups across the state have since shown support for the 12-year-old. The Oklahoma City-based LGBTQ group “Free Mom Hugs” and the Oklahoma City chapter of PFLAG have both sent letters advocating on behalf of Maddie. Both groups also offered to provide education to the school and community, and PFLAG specifically called on the school community to “show that they stand by their stated values by actively and publicly supporting and protecting this family.”
Oklahoma state law does not currently guard transgender people against discrimination, and the Trump administration withdrew guidance last February protecting trans students under federal law. The Department of Education has also made it clear it will not process any complaints from transgender students experiencing discrimination in schools.
Though Beene says he knows of no specific reports of Maddie being bullied, Rose’s comments suggest the seventh grader’s mental health is clearly caught in the crossfire. A pair of studies published last year found a connection between anti-trans victimization and the startling high rates of depression and suicidal thinking among transgender youth.
Tuesday morning’s demonstration in support of Maddie will be completely silent. Its organizers think the visible but solemn display is the best way for their message to reach the people who threatened her family.
UPDATE, 1:53 p.m. Eastern Time: The FBI and several other law enforcement agencies have stepped in to investigate the threats against 12-year-old Maddie, in order to determine whether any of the comments “constitute a hate crime,” KXII reported Tuesday. No arrests have yet been made.