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Three schoolboys are being taken to court in the US state of Wisconsin after allegedly refusing to call a fellow student as by their preferred pronouns.
The trio of eighth graders from Kiel Middle School in Wisconsin have been charged under Title IX sexual harassment legislation, which usually deals with serious crimes such as rape, dating violence, quid pro quo sexual favours and other sexually violent crimes.
One of the boys' mothers, Rosemary Rabidoux, revealed that she went into shock when her son's school called her to make her aware of the investigation.
"I received a phone call from the principal over at the elementary school, forewarning me; letting me know that I was going to be receiving an email with sexual harassment allegations against my son," she told WLUK local news.
"I immediately went into shock. I’m thinking, sexual harassment? That’s rape, that’s inappropriate touching, that’s incest. What has my son done?"
It turned out her son, 13 year old Brayden's alleged offence was none of the above.
"[The investigating principal] said he’s being allegedly charged with sexual harassment for not using proper pronouns," she said.
"I thought it wasn’t real. I thought this has got to be a gag, a joke - one has nothing to do with the other."
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) is defending the accused boys and refutes claims that misuse of pronouns is not covered by Title IX, the legislation that protects people from discrimination based on sex in the education system.
"School administrators can’t force minor students to comply with their preferred mode of speaking," WILL Deputy Counsel Luke Berg said in an online statement.
"And they certainly shouldn’t be slapping eighth graders with Title IX investigations for what amounts to protected speech. This is a terrible precedent to set, with enormous ramifications."
The three boys were charged after one of them allegedly declined to use the they/them pronouns that a fellow student asked everyone to use a month earlier.
Rosemary Rabidoux said her son stood up for one of his friends when he was being verbally abused for misgendering the fellow student.
"[The student] had been screaming at one of Braden’s friends to use proper pronouns, calling him profanity, and this friend is very soft-spoken, and kind of just sunk down into his chair," she said.
"[My son] finally came up, defending him, saying 'He doesn’t have to use proper pronouns, it’s his constitutional right to not use, you can’t make him say things.'"
In a statement to Fox News, the Kiel School District (KASD) said: "The KASD prohibits all forms of bullying and harassment in accordance with all laws, including Title IX."
The statement added it will 'continue to support ALL students regardless of sex (including transgender status, change of sex or gender identity)'.
The boys are now attempting to have the charges dropped before the matter reaches court.
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