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Chicagoans react to transgender guidelines
by Matt Simonette
2016-05-15

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The Obama administration, on May 13, released guidelines directing public schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom facilities matching their gender identity.

The directive follows weeks of debate around the issue, which is visibly playing out in Chicago and surrounding suburban areas. Chicago Public Schools already updated its 2014 guidelines about transgender students, for example, while conservative activists filed a lawsuit on behalf of 51 area families against the federal government and Township High School District 211 over their 2015 resolution to a discrimination complaint that allowed a transgender student access to the girls' changing and restroom facilities. The guidelines are not binding, but suggest that districts not following them do so to the peril of their Title IX adherence and, consequently, federal funding.

Myles Brady, Individual Giving Officer for Howard Brown Health, lauded the guidelines.

"It's been a great week for the trans community in America," Brady said. "We know that separate is not equal, and we know that President Obama believes that and stands with us."

Obama "really understands that expanding the rights of one group is not taking rights away from any other group," added Kim Hunt, executive director of Pride Action Tank. "This really takes the country a step in the right direction. The Right has been playing into people's fears and misunderstandings, and I think that it's very powerful that the Obama administration is pushing through all that."

Ed Yohnka, director of public policy and communication for ACLU Illinois, said, "This is a great day not just for transgender students, but for students across the country."

ACLU Illinois represented the transgender student against in her initial push to be allowed to use the girls' facilities last year. Yohnka added, "It's wonderful that the administration acknowledged this issue, and provided a roadmap that shows how districts can do this, while being both inclusive and non-disruptive."

In a statement, Owen Daniel-McCarter, policy and advocacy director for Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, praised Attorney General Loretta Lynch speech on the issue, predicting that it "will surely go down in history. In it, she spoke directly to the transgender community, 'We see you. We stand with you. And we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.' This letter is the definitive action behind her powerful words.

"And to echo Attorney General Lynch's sentiment, we at the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance want to say to all transgender and gender expansive students, we are here for you. You inspire us every day to keep fighting. To Alex McCray, Student A, Gavin Grimm, Nicole Maine, Coy Mathis, and all of the other students who are fighting every day, your resilience is changing the world. Without your willingness to fight, we would not be where we are today."

Hunt said that, while the new development was a great stride forward, supporters of the transgender students could expect pushback from the right, adding, "Every time one group's rights are expanded, opponent groups want to chip away at something else."

Yohnka concurred, noting, "The 'antis' are always looking for a toehold, but that doesn't slow the march towards equality. There's a lot of good work being done on this issue."

"As an African-American man, I've been there before," said Brady. "After our civil rights were advanced, there was pushback. But we're going to push back too, because we know right is right. I say, 'Bring it on.'"


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