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Pritzker signs order that protects trans+ students
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2019-06-30

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On June 30—typically, the culmination of everything LGBTQ during Pride Month—Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order protecting transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary students throughout the state.

The event took place at Chicago's Lake View High School, and featured attendees such as state Reps. Kelly Cassidy, Sara Feigenholtz and Greg Harris; activist/consultant Mary Morten; Affinity Community Services Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon; Howard Brown Health Manager of External Communications Channyn Lynne Parker; AIDS Foundation of Chicago President/CEO John Peller; Howard Brown Health CEO David Munar; Lambda Legal Midwest Director Brian Richardson; and several LGBTQA students and their parents.

Lake View High School Principal Paul "PJ" Karafiol started things by saying, "As educators, our first priority is always to ensure the safety of our students, and to support them as they grow into young adults. Our motto at this school is 'Lake View is home'—and I'm proud of the work our dedicated teachers and staffers do to support our [LGBTQ+] young people who call Lake View their home." He added that the support extends to facilities, athletics and even out of school—but added that he himself is father to a transgender son: Ari, 17.

The principal also talked about the gender-expansive services available in the school district, "from the anti-bullying policy to the new student-information system [that] allows students to identify which pronouns and names they'd like to be called by."

Ari—who his proud father described as "a writer, activist and someone who pushes me every day to be a better person," and who came out three years ago—acknowledged that it's easier now than ever to be trans. However, he added that "being trans in America is [still] much harder than it should be, and harder than most people can imagine," noting the "disproportionately high rates of suicide, mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness [and] discrimination" the demographic suffers, especially among people of color. He added, "Our dignity and growth should be treated as [givens], rather than being dependent on the willingness of individuals [going] beyond what is required of them."

Pritzker ( who has a transgender cousin, Col. Jennifer Pritzker ) acknowledged the WorldPride parade in New York City that was slated to go by the Stonewall Inn—site of the 1969 riots that sparked the LGBTQ+-rights movement. "That uprising was led, in part, by transgender and gender non-conforming people, and trans people of color, especially," he said, to applause. "While the LGBTQ community has so much to celebrate today, we must recognize that the trans community that ignited this movement has been left out of so many of its victories." Pritzker echoed what Ari said, acknowledging the hatred, discrimination and violence that many trans people continue to be subjected to.

"One thing remains certain: Illinois is becoming a leader and a beacon of equality and hope for that national LGBTQ community," Pritzker added, noting several LGBTQ-related achievements he's accomplished in his first few months in office, including supporting Getting to Zero, expanding Medicaid to include gender-affirming surgeries, providing aid to trans students, and planning to sign legislation to bring inclusive curricula to schools.

As for the order itself, Pritzker said it will "establish a task force with the mission of disrupting these patterns of discrimination by identifying best practices for guaranteeing inclusive school environments for students of all gender identities. In conjunction with the task force, the state board of education will develop and distribute model gender-inclusive policies for everything from gym-class participation to school-based programs, usage of proper names and pronouns, and dress codes in every school in our state. Under this executive order, ignorance is no longer an excuse for bigotry."

Lightfoot praised Pritzker for his pro-LGBTQ actions as governor. She added, "I'm proud that CPS [Chicago Public Schools] has been a leader on this front, with its own guidelines for transgender students and staff—ensuring that, in this city, transgender students have the same access and opportunities as everyone else."

The mayor also said that it was no coincidence this order/ceremony happened when it did. "Pride is about being who you are, and not being afraid to show it. It's about celebrating and loving who you love openly, free and without fear." However, she also mentioned the pitfalls the LGBTQ community has continued to suffer, particularly with the trans demographic.

She also thanked Ari for his words, saying they "made me think of my own time, as a teenager in high school. I was one of the cool kids … but I held a secret, which was that I was a lesbian. I didn't even know how to communicate those words. I lived in fear, and it took me a long time before I felt that I had to live my authentic self." Lastly, she mentioned how important it is for parents for support their children, no matter who they are—so they can live authentic lives as well.

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton also spoke, saying that the goal of the best practices is to "ensure that all of our transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary students have a welcoming, safe, supportive and inclusive school environment. … Today represents a day of acceptance, love, compassion and empathy. … And in the spirit of [trans icons] Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, and in the spirit of the murdered trans woman whose names I wear on my shirt today, we know that there's so much more to keep fighting for. And with this executive order, we say … that we are fighting alongside you."

Attendees also heard from CPS Chief Education Officer LaTanya D. McDade ( who also talked about CPS's efforts to create/maintain a safe and inclusive environment, including training and even a trans-supportive tool kit ); trans activist Syd Robinson ( a onetime Trans 100 honoree who said the Stonewall Riots were reflective of Sir Isaac Newton's first law of motion—that every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force ); and Illinois State Board of Education Chair Darren Reisberg ( who is himself a member of the LGBT community, and who also called for a safe and inclusive at atmosphere for students, adding, "All children deserve to be themselves" ).


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