As April 4 general elections loom in suburban Cook and collar county municipalities, few local school board races will be watched more closely than that of Township High School District 211, in the Northwest suburbs including Palatine, where board members have long been grappling with public accommodations rules for its transgender students.
Some local parents formed a coalition with both Trans United Funda national advocacy political group centering on trans issuesand Equality Illinois to campaign for board candidates who support trans-affirming rules that were put into place when the federal government intervened on behalf of a transgender girl who had been denied access to the girls' locker room.
Other parents and anti-LGBT advocates have since decried District 211's vote in 2015 to accept the government's deal. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an anti-LGBT legal organization, in 2016, filed a lawsuit on behalf of aggrieved families. A local organization called Parents4Privacy has meanwhile become especially active, recently throwing their support behind school board candidates who would like to see the rules rolled back.
Parents4Privacy's role in local politics is what inspired Lindsay Christensen and two other mothers to form an opposing coalition in support of candidates Robert LeFevre, Jr., Anna Klimkowicz and Edward Yung.
"Our efforts have been [focused on] canvassing on behalf of our candidates in District 211 and we've been phone-banking a little bit as well," said Christensen. "We've been dealing with the Parents4Privacy in District 211 for about two years now. They've made quite a name for themselves, and people now know who they are."
She added, "It's been tough-going, because we don't have a lot of volunteers and we definitely don't have a lot of money." About five to 10 canvassers have gone out on weekends, while five or six people have been working the phones.
"Initially we thought it was really our individual trans students that were going to suffer if these candidates come into power and put in an agreement where they can't use the bathroom if the want to," noted Christensen. "But the other thing is they're really affecting all our students. They don't have very much experience for our school board, and they could very well could be detrimental to the district financially."
Equality Illinois CEO Brian Johnson said, "This is a critical race, not just for the students in D211, or even Illinois, but students across the country. This election is being made a 'proving ground' about the consequences of standing up for kids."
Hayden Mora, a founding member of Trans United Fund, said the District 211 families "are doing this incredible work, these moms who have been meeting since early February to try to protect their kids," Mora said. "…They've been going door-to-door, in their own neighborhood, just doing every everything in their powerit's sort of like organic engagement in electoral politics."
The coalition is trying to raise about $51,000, according to Mora. They've already raised about $22,000, and the clock is ticking, with the election now less than two weeks away. Karin and Lana Wachowski have contributed $10,000 to the campaign.
Chicago-based trans advocate LaSaia Wade, a national board member of Trans United Fund and the member who first asked TUF's board to endorse these efforts, sent out a fundraising appeal for the Palatine action, stating in part: "This is a make-or-break moment for trans youth in Illinoisand all over the countryand it's up to us to stop these anti-trans candidates. We know that the best way to get out voters who support trans youth is to knock on their door and have a face to face conversation with themand we have a list of supportive voters we need to reach before April 4. … We have something the ADF doesn't have: real, everyday families and neighbors on our side. But they have the means to spend much more money than us on this race-putting trans kids at risk."
Christensen said their opponents had an "unprecedented" amount of contributions for a school board election.
"We need a lot of volunteers and a lot of money," she said. "If it weren't for Trans Union Fund's interest in us, we would have no chance, but we still need bodies on the ground here. That's going to be the most important thing."
"We're excited about the leadership of the Trans United Fund," added Johnson. "We have been helping in as many ways possible to support their work, and the work of the parents in the greater Palatine-Schaumburg community."
Palatine's elementary District 15 is also undergoing a similar controversy, and on March 8 LGBT-rights supporters rallied in support of board members who affirmed trans students rights. Gay activist Paul Dombrowski reports that the pro-LGBT members running are Gerald Chapman, James Ekeberg and Peggy Babcock.
For more information, see actionnetwork.org/events/get-out-the-vote-to-keep-trans-kids-safe-in-chicago-325-326 .
To donate to the campaign, see: actionnetwork.org/fundraising/under-attack-help-us-keep-trans-kids-safe-in-chicago .