Friday night, transgender equality and the health of transgender youth took a giant step backwards when four members of the East Aurora school board, two being absent for the vote, cowered and bowed to the pressure of outsiders and a hate group in denying transgender students equal access to public accommodations.
The school board voted unanimously last Monday to allow transgender students equal access to restrooms, locker rooms and gender specific sports teams and classes that were in line with the student’s gender identity. The policy also stated that students would be allowed to be called by their desired name rather than their birth name whether or not a court ordered name change had been given.
This drew wide backlash among groups like the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), a Carol Stream based group that is “dedicated to upholding and re-affirming marriage, family, life and liberty in Illinois.” The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies IFI as an “anti-gay” and anti-LGBT hate group and IFI has consistently worked against LGBT issues through out the state. In a letter posted on IFI’s website, Laurie Higgins wrote “The school board is now imposing non-objective, “progressive” moral, philosophical, and political beliefs—not facts—about gender confusion on the entire school. This feckless school board has made a decision to accommodate, not the needs of gender-confused teens, but their disordered desires and the desires of gender/sexuality anarchists who exploit public education for their perverse ends.” Higgins goes on to write, “Aurora East High School is now accommodating the disordered impulses and unproven beliefs of a statistically miniscule segment of their population . . .” These statements show an undeniable lack of education and knowledge about being transgender and Gender Dysphoria.
Being transgender is not confused or perverse and transgender students are not trying to exploit the public education system. Studies show that 90% of transgender students feel unsafe in their school environment. Only with policies like this one, are transgender students able to freely enjoy access to an education with less fear of harassment and physical violence. The mental health of these students benefits from the student being able to go to school and be recognized by the gender they identify with. Abbe Land, executive director and CEO of The Trevor Project, “Since 2010, more than 3,000 teens from Illinois have called the Trevor Lifeline in crisis, and among their top presenting problems were bullying and harassment at school. This policy will help protect the highly vulnerable transgender student population from discrimination, fear and hate that leads to bullying, increased anxiety, and elevated safety concerns on East Aurora’s campuses, and is a step that can help save lives.”
The Civil Rights Agenda, a Chicago base organization that envisions “a state affected by civil liberties and justice that are truly of all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity”, has voiced it own concern over the actions of the school board and was present at the Friday night meeting. “The high percentage of LGBT related bullying and violence is not lost on the Illinois General Assembly,” said Rick Garcia, Policy Advisor for The Civil Rights Agenda. “They have taken the appropriate legal steps to ensure individual safety, which in turn, directly affects the Board, and this specific policy. The Illinois Human Rights Act mandates full protection for all individuals based upon his or her actual or perceived gender-related identity, whether or not traditionally associated with the person’s designated gender at birth. The Act makes clear that elementary and secondary schools are considered places of public accommodation. As a public accommodation, this school district is prohibited from denying or refusing a transgender individual the full and equal enjoyment of the facilities, goods and services provided to all students.”
Board President Annette Johnson statement that the Board had the “wool pulled over their eyes” is a weak excuse for not doing their job and educating themselves on the issues that surround transgender students. For the Friday night meeting to be held with out two of the board members, for one member to leave early and the remaining members not to take into account the voices of parents with transgender children in their district are all indications that the Board is not serious about protecting the rights of these students.
The Illinois School Board needs to actively and immediately address this issue. The affects of this decision will be felt through out the state and the country until people are willing to genuinely listen and educate themselves on the issues that surround transgender individuals.