Critics of the cultural right’s focus on the cultural left’s efforts to inure Americans to transgenderism and gender fluidity insist that their crusade has assumed all the features of a “moral panic.” Explicitly or via implication, the American right has been accused of conjuring from thin air the notion that a conspiracy is afoot to endanger children in the name of inclusivity. As the grand jury report on the events that transpired in Virginia’s Loudoun County School district makes abundantly clear, the right has a point.
Last week, the Loudoun County school board summarily fired the district’s superintendent, Scott Ziegler, in a closed-door meeting. He was implicated in a special grand jury’s investigation into events in 2021 involving the allegation that a biologically male student used his ambiguous gender identity to assault female students and evade disciplinary action. Moreover, the report maintains that Ziegler and other district administrators conspired to avoid controversy for themselves while imperiling their students.
The details of what transpired in Loudoun County’s Stone Bridge High School are sickening, though many of the particulars of this travesty were already public knowledge.
In May 2021, within one month of the return to in-person instruction after months in maddening isolation, a teaching assistant filed a written complaint about a disruptive student. The student, who identified as “gender fluid,” was engaging in “reckless behavior,” and his teacher didn’t want to be “held accountable if someone should get hurt.” It was a prescient warning that went unheeded. Sixteen days later, that student allegedly sexually assaulted a female classmate in the girls’ bathroom.
The victim called her father, who quickly arrived at the scene of the attack. Understandably “upset,” he was initially denied access to the premises before being escorted in and out of the building in the space of about 15 minutes. Though the alleged assailant was still “at large” in the building, school administrators were focused on the victim’s irate father. The school’s principal sought and secured a “no trespass letter” against him. Soon thereafter, the district’s chief operating officer sent an email to senior staff contending that this incident “related to policy 8040,” which “addresses the rights of transgender and gender-expansive students.”
That evening, an email about the incident went out to community members, but it “neither mentioned nor hinted at the sexual assault that took place in the bathroom, instead focusing on the father of the victim who arrived at the school,” the grand jury’s report read. At a school-board meeting one month later, angry parents asked Ziegler to clarify the rumors swirling around the community about a sexual assault on school grounds. He insisted that, to “my knowledge, we don’t have any records of assaults occurring in our restrooms.” The grand jury called this statement “a lie.”
In July, the alleged assailant was arrested, detained, processed, and released pursuant to state law. He was transferred to a different school within the Loudoun County system. There, the offending student was again accused of sexually harassing his classmates, and a teacher related the accusation to her superiors. But administrators did not inform this teacher about the offending student’s history, and he faced no disciplinary action. Despite his criminal history, ankle monitor, strict supervision, and sprawling disciplinary file, this student received “nothing more than a verbal admonishment.” A month after that, he attempted yet another rape—dragging an “unassuming female” into a classroom where he “nearly asphyxiated her” and “sexually assaulted her.”
That, it seems, was the point at which the district’s patience for this “gender-expansive” teen’s criminal conduct was exhausted. But no amount of energy was spared in the effort to accommodate him and his affinity for rape. Critical information about his attacks was “purposely omitted” from reports on his conduct. School administrators displayed more concern for the reputational harm his attacks would do to the school system than for their vulnerable students. His past was shielded from the teachers who complained about him, and they were apparently told that they should deter him by using “a piece of cardboard” or “an apron to prevent a student from repeatedly grabbing their groin area.”
Every effort was made on this serial offender’s behalf—efforts that, it is safe to assume, would not have been forthcoming had this biologically male student identified as male while attempting sexual assault in a women’s restroom. Maybe the right jumped to some conclusions in this case, but they were correct. There is an accommodationist tendency on the left toward people who engage in criminally deviant behavior so long as they have a unique gender identity.
The left, too, applied political heuristics to this event, which led them to conclude that the addled conservative mind was the only phenomenon of any interest here. They were disastrously wrong.
Events in Loudoun County quickly took on a political dimension—occurring as they did, weeks before Virginia’s gubernatorial election and amid a nationwide backlash against teaching transgenderism and “Critical Race Theory” in the classroom. At a Virginia rally, Barack Obama dismissed the energy around these issues as “phony, trumped-up culture wars.” Predictably, it was the right that “seized” on a “culture war fantasy”—the alleged rape of a woman in a facility that is inaccessible to men who identify as men—an issue “they themselves have weaponized.”
“Turns out it was a dating violence story,” Salon’s Amanda Marcotte wrote following courtroom testimony indicating that the assaulter and his first victim had consensual sexual encounters in the past, “not a trans bathroom story, as portrayed.” Citing a Harvard University study that indicated it would be dangerous to not let teens like this access women-only facilities, the Daily Dot’s Claire Goforth insisted that “Transgender and gender-nonbinary teens face greater risk of sexual assault in schools.”
The enraged parents who descended on the district’s school-board meetings were accused of criminally harassing their elected officials—part of a broader campaign to label concerned parents “domestic terrorists.” They were mere tools in a “campaign being waged by conservative donors, media pundits, politicians, and local activists.”
This reaction somehow managed to avoid reckoning with desperate protests of parents of Louden County students, the walkouts conducted by the students themselves in defense of their own physical safety, and even lawsuits filed by the county’s teachers against a district that put “Policy 8040” over their wellbeing. All were accused of being in thrall to a conspiracy theory. But there were conspirators, a plot, and an overarching goal of advancing the objectives of social justice over and above the conduct of actual justice.