In the final weeks of Virginia’s heated gubernatorial campaign, Republicans have been fanning the flames of transphobia, using a sexual assault in a Loudoun County school bathroom for political gain.
Their argument is fairly basic ― that Democrat Terry McAuliffe and his ilk won’t keep Virginians, especially children, safe. The election is Nov. 2.
But the facts of the case don’t line up with their fearmongering, as the trial on Monday made clear.
“It’s not about Virginia. It’s not about this case,” the prosecutor, Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj, told HuffPost. “It’s all about how they’re taking these incidents and unfortunate circumstances, creating disinformation, done solely for the purpose of them promoting their agenda. And that is unfortunate because we have real people who are living these experiences.”
The sexual assault occurred in the girls’ bathroom of a Loudoun County high school in May. The victim’s parents claimed that the perpetrator wore a skirt and identified as “gender fluid.” Those characterizations were swiftly picked up by Republicans and conservative media, who said it was evidence that bathroom policies allowing transgender individuals to use the facility based on their own gender identity put women in danger.
The boy was transferred to another high school, where he was accused of another sexual assault on Oct. 6, this time in an empty classroom. Republican Glenn Youngkin, who is running for governor against McAuliffe, has called for the resignations of the Loudoun County superintendent and school board, accusing them of covering up what happened.
The case even made its way to Congress. Senate Republicans used a hearing for a judicial nominee, who would serve on a court based in California, to further talk about the Loudoun County case ― even though the nominee said she wasn’t familiar with it.
“Do you stand by your comments in these  briefs that there is no evidence of violence or crime in restrooms by allowing biological males to use biological females’ restrooms?” asked Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).
But the Loudoun County case appears to have absolutely nothing to do with bathroom policies based on gender identity.
First of all, Loudoun County does have transgender-inclusive bathroom policies in schools. But they weren’t in place when the assault happened on May 28. The school board did not even approve it until Aug. 11.
Monday’s trial gave even more evidence that the right-wing narrative was inaccurate.
Authorities still have not commented on the attacker’s gender identity. Both the victim and her attacker ― who has consistently been referred to as a male ― have said that he was wearing a skirt on the day of the attack.
But Biberaj told HuffPost that based on the facts that came out at the trial, gender identity was never an issue in the case.
Republicans have long conjured images of transgender predators who utilize bathrooms as hunting grounds to scare people about inclusive bathroom policies. But those are myths. Government, law enforcement and school officials in places with transgender-inclusive policies say the “bathroom predator” has no basis in fact. Sexual assault is also already against the law, whether in a bathroom or elsewhere.
And indeed, the facts of the Loudoun County case they have been touting don’t seem to line up either, as The Washington Post recounted from the trial:
On Monday, the teenage victim of the Stone Bridge assault testified that she and her attacker had agreed to meet up in a school bathroom around 12:15 p.m. on the date of the assault. She testified they had not explicitly discussed having sex beforehand.
The teen testified she arrived first and chose to go in the girls’ bathroom because the two had always met in the girls’ bathrooms in the past. When the boy arrived, the teen testified, he came into the handicapped stall she was in and locked the door.
The two talked, before the girl testified the boy began grabbing her neck and other parts of her body in a sexual manner. She testified she told her attacker she was not in the mood for sex, but he forced himself on her.
The judge found the boy, who is now 15, guilty.
Education policy has become central to Youngkin’s campaign for governor, taking up the cause of parents ― who are often GOP activists ― who oppose mask mandates, vaccine mandates and teaching children about race.
On Monday, he released an ad featuring a woman advocating for more parental say in schools. The woman previously launched a campaign to ban Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Beloved” from her son’s school.
Biberaj said she has been frustrated to see the Loudoun County case, and the victim’s experience, used for political purposes.
“I just really would like for the rhetoric to die down and for us to not lose focus ― because in these types of cases, it’s about individuals and families ― and for these outside operatives to stop hurting my community,” she said. “Because once they’re done, we are left with the destruction. And I want to make sure that we can always survive from any harm that comes from our community. This is just making it that much harder for us to be able to continue to live together.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.