But she’s a cheerleader! What to make of Kaitlyn Hunt.
Three years ago, the people of the internet—and more importantly, the ACLU—rallied in support of a teen named Constance McMillen who wanted to take her girlfriend to the prom.
Things ended well for Constance. Her school agreed to create a policy protecting students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, pay her $35,000, pay her attorneys’ fees and expenses and have the court enter a judgment against the school. If she had lost, she may have missed out on the prom, which could be a “my life is over” moment for some high schoolers. But her life would have gone on.
The same cannot be said for Kaitlyn Hunt, the 18-year-old at the center of the most recent story about two teenage girls in a relationship. In February, the Florida teen was expelled from school, arrested and charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery of a child 12 to 16 years of age as a result of her relationship with her 14-year-old classmate.
By all accounts, the relationship was consensual—these girls were basketball teammates and friends. It also seems both sets of parents knew about the girls’ relationship. Hunt’s parents are accusing the younger girl’s parents of discrimination, claiming that they never would have reacted this way if Kaitlyn was a boy. The younger girl’s parents deny that charge.
The what ifs in this case are huge—and so are the stakes. If she is found guilty of the second-degree felony charges she faces, Hunt could spend up to 15 years in prison and be required to register as a sex offender.
This CNN report about this case is, well, weird. This clip starts with a reporter’s voiceover about Hunt’s life being ruined, and goes on to lament how she should be getting ready for college cheerleading tryouts in the fall (I thought she played basketball but whatever), but instead is getting ready for court. The message: This girl is normal. With blond hair and candy-colored fingernails, surrounded by her family, we are to understand that she’s not your typical predator. And she’s not. Unless you ask her girlfriend’s parents.
They have said they told Kaitlyn the relationship was wrong. So, they warned her to stay away from their daughter. I mean, I know it’s been a while since I was in high school, but since when do teenagers listen to parents about relationships?
The coverage ends with a reference to “her mistake.” Was it a mistake? I’m not saying girls will be girls, but let’s look at the facts as we know them. Two classmates were friends. Two classmates started dating. One was 18, one was 14. In Florida, no one under the age of 16 can legally consent to sex. But these are teenagers, and the 14-year-old is not saying Hunt pushed her into a relationship. And most teenagers don’t look up their state’s consent laws when they start dating a peer.
Let’s go back to the question everyone seems to be asking: What if Kaitlyn Hunt was male? Assuming the parents reacted the same way and the same charges were pending—which I doubt they would have—I think the case, in the media at least, would be clearer because people could spread the usual message: Girls are victims and boys want sex. Well, newsflash: Anyone can be a victim, and girls want sex too.
Last week, Hunt rejected a plea deal that would have allowed her to avoid registering as a sex offender if she pleaded guilty to lesser charges of child abuse. State Attorney Bruce Colton had said he would recommend two years of house arrest followed by one year probation if she took the deal.
I get that this is a tricky area. Like many teenagers, Hunt met someone at school that she liked, they started dating and things got messy. But a consensual high school relationship shouldn’t end in jail time, and the ACLU agrees and has released an official statement: “The ACLU of Florida condemns the prosecution of 18-year-old Kaitlyn Hunt. The facts as we understand them suggest that the state is prosecuting Kaitlyn for engaging in behavior that is both fairly innocuous and extremely common … This prosecution does nothing to protect Florida’s young people but instead causes a great deal of harm.”
Teenagers in same sex relationships have enough pressure from society, friends and, sometimes, parents. I’d like to applaud Hunt’s family for sticking by her and calling out the other parents involved for what seems to be a case of homophobia, not girls gone wild.