This anti-transgender campaign picked the wrong sexual assault victim to exploit

This is what happens when you’re too eager to demonize transgender people.

Kelly Herron telling her story on ABC’s Good Morning America. CREDIT: ABC News/Screenshot
Kelly Herron telling her story on ABC’s Good Morning America. CREDIT: ABC News/Screenshot

After failing to collect enough signatures last year, conservatives in Washington are once again pursuing a ballot initiative (I-1552) to impose discrimination on transgender people. The petition campaign relies on highlighting the stories of sexual assault survivors to scare people into supporting prohibitions on transgender people using the restroom that matches their gender identity. But this past week, their strategy backfired.

On Sunday, March 5, Kelly Herron was marathon training in a Seattle park when she was assaulted inside one of the public restrooms. A 40-year-old homeless sex offender who had been hiding in one of the stalls attacked her from behind, punched her several times, wrestled her to the ground, and attempted to rape her. Using lessons from a recent self-defense class, she was able to fight him off and detain him until police could arrive to arrest him. She went on to tell her story about fighting back on Good Morning America.

After this was reported in local media, the I-1552 campaign, known as “Just Want Privacy,” jumped at the opportunity to highlight Herron’s story as an example of why people should support their campaign to discriminate against transgender people. In addition to posting it on their Facebook page, they also sent out a fundraising email focused entirely on what she experienced.

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“Sadly, what happened to Kelly is hardly rare,” the email read, as if the campaign knew her personally. “Each week yields new stories of deviant men who found ways to access female’s vulnerable spaces in order to exploit them.”

But Herron’s attacker was not transgender, nor was his presence — let alone his actions — legal because of the state’s laws protecting transgender people from discrimination. And she isn’t letting the bigoted campaign take advantage of her story.

In a statement released this week, Herron demanded Just Want Privacy retract their use of her story and also refund any money raised off the use of her image, name, and story. And she did so echoing the same sentiment she screamed at her attacker in that restroom:

Last week I successfully defended myself against a violent sexual assault in a public restroom at Golden Gardens Park in Seattle, yelling “not today, mutherf*cker!” But 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.

To the people behind I-1552, I say “not today, mutherf*ckers.” I refuse to allow anyone to use me and my horrific sexual assault to cause harm and discrimination to others.

According to Herron, those advocating for I-1552 “use fear mongering to justify singling out one group, transgender people, for discrimination,” and she strongly opposes their efforts to repeal the state’s “decade-old protections against discrimination for our transgender friends, family and co-workers.”

On Tuesday, Just Want Privacy responded to Herron — this time without naming her — with a nonapology. “The last thing we want to do is make anyone feel exploited,” the group said. “If our actions have inadvertently failed in this effort, we are sincerely sorry.” Most of the statement is dedicated to defending their strategy of using scare tactics to advocate against transgender people.

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In the statement, the group offers to apologize to Herron in person, but makes no reference to the money fundraised off her story.

Given the weakness of the apology, Herron’s rebuke is not likely to dissuade Just Want Privacy from continuing to try to scare people about the imagined consequences of respecting who transgender people are in public spaces. After all, this is the campaign that last year encouraged male signature collectors to follow women into restrooms to convince them to sign the petition.

In a blatant effort to demonize transgender people, Just Want Privacy continues to invent and exploit the very kind of violence they claim to be trying to prevent.