An Aurora school district is taking heat for a new policy intended to make transgender and gender-variant students safer.
Aurora East High School District 131 is reconsidering transgender protections approved unanimously Oct. 15 after community members complained, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report.
District spokesperson Clayton Muhammad said the board will consider rescinding the new policy on Oct. 19 at a special board meeting. In the meantime, the district is commenting in the form of a press release listing the meeting details, he said.
The policy in question mandates that transgender students be referred to with their preferred name and pronouns, be granted restroom access that corresponds with their gender identity and be allowed equal participation in gendered activities like intramural programs. It further states that transgender and gender non-conforming students have a right to privacy when it comes to their gender identification.
Shannon Sullivan, executive director of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, which advocates for LGBTQ youth, said the three-page Aurora policy is the model policy nationally for dealing with gender-variant students. Despite existing information on lesbian and gay students, she said, little information exists on the realities facing gender-variant youth.
"The stakes are so much higher when you start talking about transgender and gender non-conforming students," said Sullivan.
Some of the backlash to the policy appears to be stirred by opposition from the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), a Carol Stream-based anti-gay organization.
IFI posted a message condemning the policy on its website and calling on the school board to undo the decision.
"The school board is now imposing non-objective, 'progressive' moral, philosophical, and political beliefsnot factsabout gender confusion on the entire school," IFI wrote on its website. "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."
IFI has been labeled an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Sullivan said that the Alliance is "supporting local community members in responding to show their support for these crucial and vital policies."
The board meeting is scheduled for Friday at 5:30 p.m. at East Aurora School Service Center, 417 Fifth St. in Aurora.
This is an ongoing story. Check back for details.
FROM A NEWS RELEASE:
Southern Poverty Law Center urges East Aurora school board to uphold transgender rights policy; not to bow to pressure from anti-gay hate group
MONTGOMERY, Ala. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) urged the East Aurora School Board today not to bow to pressure from an anti-gay hate group by rescinding a policy protecting the rights of transgender students and employees.
The SPLC described in a letter to the board the long history of anti-gay bigotry spewed by the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), which is pressuring the board to eliminate the policy. The Carol Stream-based group has compared homosexuality to Nazism. The IFI has been designated as an anti-gay hate group by the SPLC for its demonization of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
The board is set to reconsider its policy at an emergency meeting today.
"The School Board should not allow the IFI's vitriol to impact its legal and moral duty to ensure that all students have a learning environment free from harassment and abuse," Alesdair Ittelson, an SPLC attorney, wrote in the letter. "The spread of hate must end at the schoolhouse doors."
The letter notes that rescinding this policy, which outlines various rights of transgender students and employees, would display anti-LGBT animus and could expose the school board to legal liability. It also would provide "strong evidence in any future lawsuit on behalf of students who experience harassment or discrimination within the School District."
It notes that the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have found that discrimination based on gender nonconformity is a form of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX of the Education Code.
The SPLC recently settled a Title IX lawsuit on behalf of gender nonconforming students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota. The students represented by the SPLC suffered merciless bullying due to their gender expression, largely because the school district did not have adequate policies to prevent this harassment.
The settlement agreement ultimately required the Anoka-Hennepin district to adopt a wide-ranging plan to protect LGBT students from bullying and harassment. The district was also required to pay $270,000 in damages to six students who brought lawsuits. The East Aurora policy will help protect students, avoid costly litigation and provide a safe learning environment for all students.
"Again, we commend you on instituting an inclusive policy and hope you will make the correct decision in this matter keeping in place a policy to ensure that all people, including those who are transgender or gender variant, may learn, work, and participate in creating a better future for the youth of East Aurora," Ittelson wrote.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see www.splcenter.org .