Sasha Fleischman

Sasha Fleishman sets example in aftermath of bus attack

Sasha Fleischman should be a role model for everyone.

The 18-year-old, who identifies as agender, made the news when a 16-year-old Oakland teenager set the skirt that Fleischman was wearing on fire on an AC Transit bus in early November.

Fleischman, who was given the first name Luke at birth but now goes by Sasha, has described waking up on fire on the bus ride through Oakland and having to roll around on the floor of the bus to extinguish the flames.

The fire sent Fleischman to the hospital with second- and third-degree burns. The 16-year-old suspect accused of setting the fire landed behind bars. The suspect, who prosecutors have said will be tried as an adult, faces charges of aggravated mayhem and felony assault. He is also facing hate crime enhancements, which carry a more serious jail sentence if the teen is found guilty.

Fleischman spent weeks in a San Francisco hospital for treatment of the burns. Many in that position could spew vitriol — both for the incident, which apparently was based on the fact that Fleischman was wearing a skirt, and for the long recovery the teenager faces due to the attack.

But Fleischman — who identifies as neither male nor female — instead has taken a higher road. The teenager has thus far become a quasi-spokesperson for the agender community, patiently explaining that the wearing of skirts will continue, despite the attack.

Fleischman, who was released from the hospital the day before Thanksgiving, went on to say that the Oakland teen accused of the attack should not be tried as an adult. At a time when many people might want the harshest penalty cast down, Fleischman and the teen’s parents want the case directed to a family court.

The attorney for the 16-year-old Oakland teen says the video from the bus makes it clear that the teen set Fleischman’s skirt on fire. But the incident was supposed to be a prank and the teenager, who reportedly told police he is homophobic, is remorseful, the attorney says.

There is no doubt that there needs to be punishment for the 16-year-old, but Fleischman, a high school senior, has shown that it does not have to be retribution. The community has embraced Fleischman, donating money for medical expenses and wearing skirts to show solidarity. The outpouring of support is encouraging, but the incident, and Fleischman’s response, needs to lead to more.

Eventually what should grow out of this horrible attack is a better sense of understanding about sexual identities. In the liberal-leaning Bay Area, it is disgraceful that a teenager wearing a skirt, regardless of sexual identity, would be picked on for any reason.

This entire incident has been a tragedy, but rather than calling for swift justice and moving on, we all need to take a lesson from Fleischman and move beyond the hate — even the hate of the act itself — and focus on healing and learning.

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