Boycott the Hate of Jelly Belly

20:52Ciaran McCormick

In California, lawmakers have passed a law allowing young people to succeed and be comfortable in schools. Specifically, the School Success and Opportunity Act ensures that children identifying as transgender and students with other gender identities are given a fair experience in schools. 
People come in all shapes, types and colours (Flickr: kayaker1204)
They are not to be segregated, forced to enrol in gendered classes that clash with their identity. Importantly, they should be allowed to use bathrooms and changing facilities that match their own personal identity rather than have it dictated on them by insensitive adults. However, it has emerged that the chairman of popular confectioner 'Jelly Belly' Herman Rowland Sr. has supported transphobic organisation 'Privacy for All Students' with a $5,000 donation. They have launched a drive for a referendum to repeal the law. Their main complaint is that it violates the privacy of students to enforce sexually segregated areas based on gender identity rather than their sex. They have until November 6 to collect the names of those that they are petitioning to force through a referendum.

This action threatens the security and wellbeing of an exceptionally vulnerable group of young people. They face alienation on a daily basis and encounter problems that cisgender people cannot imagine. Herman Rowland and the people behind this group have grown up with a privilege. They have not been uncomfortable using facilities like bathrooms and changing rooms out of sync with the gender on their school records. Whilst they may have been bullied in school, it probably did not compare to the suffering endured by many transgender students perceived as 'different' by their peers.

A peculiarity of American politics, which proclaims itself as the most democratic system in the world, is the privileged access and influence given to big business. This has given a platform to Herman Rowland Sr. to influence Californian policy by making a donation to a hateful referendum campaign. We can judge Herman Rowland Sr. by the company that he keeps. This campaign is being led by Frank Schubert, who is a notorious crusader against gay marriage in a variety of states. These organisations and individuals are not the associates of those that accept tolerance and support children's right to live in an environment that accepts their diversity and identities. Instead, they preach their own brand of hate. As usual, many of their arguments do not even make sense. In the Privacy for Students FAQs, they reject the law based on logical fallacies such as the fact that this is the first law of its type in the USA and that it only adds 37 words to the Education Code. These are not valid reasons for denying a quality of life for young people.  

It reflects badly on the state of LGBT rights in America and goes against a supposed arc of progress as gay marriage reaches more corners of the country. Transgender students face a broad and deep set of challenges and an overarching stigma that has devastating effects on the lives of many. A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey is startling reading for anyone that hasn't experienced hate because of their gender identity. They asked some deeply personal questions to 6,450 transgender and other gender non-conforming people and the results are shocking. 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide. 78% experienced harassment between grades K and 12. 90% reported harassment at work. A picture begins to build up of a severe pattern of discrimination, disadvantage and hate across housing, public facilities, abuse by authorities like police, health and family. These people deserve the protection that the School Success and Opportunity Act offered.


What must be done about it? Obviously there is the campaign to challenge the referendum and keep the law on the statute books. However, using the power of the pocket to challenge chairpeople such as Herman Rowland Sr. is a useful weapon in our repertoire. A petition is trying to reach 10,000 signatures to send him a clear message that consumers will not support a company that is associated with transphobia. There is a Facebook page set up to encourage a boycott of Jelly Belly products. Christmas is coming. For many, it is a time of happiness and giving. Sweets like jelly beans are a nice treat for this time of year. However, for Christmas this year, I would rather give hope, happiness and anti-hate legislation to the Californian young people that need it most. Please share this post to spread the message that it is not acceptable to legislate your own personal beliefs on vulnerable young people. Comment below to share your thoughts on the issue.

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