Three Wisconsin middle school boys are facing sexual harassment charges brought by their school because of allegations they used incorrect gender pronouns in referring to another student.
Rosemary Rabidoux is the mother of one of the accused students. She told reporters that she received a call from the school principal warning her that an email was coming to her specifying the charges against her son.
She said that she “went into shock” because of the nature of sexual harrasment. She added the things that sprung into her mind included rape, inappropriate touching, and incest.
As it turned out, her 13-year-old son, Braden, had not been accused of any of those horrific acts. He was being accused of addressing a fellow student at Kiel Middle School using incorrect pronouns.
Rabidoux said that when she learned the basis of the sexual harassment charges, she “thought it wasn’t real.” She thought it had to be a joke, since “one has nothing to do with the other.”
The charges against the three boys are being brought pursuant to Title IX, which prohibits harassment on the basis of gender.
It appears the charges stem from an incident that occured in March. A student at the middle school announced a preference for “they” and “them” as their personal pronouns.
Rabidoux said that her son got in trouble because he was sticking up for a friend. She said the student in question was screaming at a friend of Braden’s and using profanities toward him. The friend was said to be soft-spoken and withdrew from the screaming by sinking down in his chair.
Rabidoux said that Braden intervened to defend his friend by saying he did not have to use pronouns as directed. He said that his friend has a constitutional right to not be forced to say anything.
She said that Braden was confused by the entire pronoun controversy around the student, and she told him to simply use the student’s name rather than any pronouns.
The parents of the accused students are now being represented by Luke Berg, an attorney with the public interest law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
Berg told reporters that the matter does not constitute sexual harassment under Title IX or the school’s policies. He added that the charges are a violation of the First Amendment if the school’s theory is based solely on pronoun usage.
The school district’s superintendent Brad Ebert told reporters that the district does not comment on student disciplinary matters. He did say that the district “prohibits all forms of bullying and harassment” according to all laws, including Title IX. He added that the district will protect all students based on their “transgender status, change of sex or gender identity.”