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Uncertain future for Aurora school trans committee
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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Advocates in Aurora are growing concerned that a committee charged with creating a transgender student policy for Dist. 131 will be disbanded.

East Aurora School Dist. 131 has been dealing with the fallout over transgender protections since October when it passed a new transgender policy and then quickly repealed it amid protest from anti-LGBT groups.

Now, some worry that the school board is poised to disband a committee formed to re-write those protections, after officials postponed the committee's next meeting.

The controversy started this fall when the Dist. 131 voted to adopt protections for transgender students. The Illinois Family Institute (IFI), an Illinois-based anti-gay organization, vociferously opposed the policy on its website. The board voted to repeal the policy just days later.

Intending to craft new protections for trans students, the district formed a committee of more than 20. But a recent meeting left some members worried for their safety.

"It was the weirdest experience I have ever been through," said Joanie Rae Wimmer, an equal rights attorney who sits on the committee. "I was a little scared after everything that happened."

Committee members had expected that opponents of the transgender policy would flood its Nov. 29 meeting.

More than 100 people attended the meeting, according to a Beacon-News report.

But the level of intensity left some feeling scared. Several spoke out against the transgender policy, taking up the bulk of the 90-minute scheduled meeting.

Wimmer said that throughout, the meeting, a man stood directly behind her. At some point late in the meeting, he accused Wimmer of trying to put her "lifestyle" onto Aurora children, she said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, committee chair and school board member Anita Lewis, announced that the committee's Dec. 13 had been postponed. The Beacon-News reported that Lewis said committee members were worried about their safety.

Lewis could not be reached for comment. Dist. spokesperson Clayton Muhammad did not respond to requests to comment.

Crystal Ann Gray of U.S. Transgender Advocacy is one committee member who had concerns. Gray reported that she was greeted at the door to the meeting by people in camouflage with badges that read "chaplain." Gray said she was kicked in the leg on the way into the meeting.

"Safety was definitely an issue," said Gray.

Sarah Schriber of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance described the meeting as "shocking."

"I didn't feel unsafe in the room," said Schriber. "But I can very well imagine that others did."

IFI recounted a different version of events on its website.

In a post on the IFI website, Laurie Higgins, cultural analyst for IFI, noted that the committee was not elected and included people from outside the community.

"Over 20 people, including a high school student, voiced their opposition to any policy that would permit boys and girls to use the restrooms and locker rooms designated for those of the opposite sex," Higgins wrote. "And they expressed their views with unapologetic, unself-conscious, bold, and impassioned conviction, often with the help of a translator."

But while members of the committee expressed concerns about safety, they want the meetings to continue.

Wimmer said she believes that the postponement of the meetings signals that the school is again caving to the demands of IFI, largely seen as instrumental in overturning the first policy.

While advocates had expected to hear from opponents Nov. 29, they also expected Dec. 14 to hear the side of supporters.

Still, committee members interviewed said they had not received official word that the committee had been suspended yet.

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