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Illinois: Two Steps Backward on Transgender Inclusiveness for East Aurora Schools

Approximately 50 miles west of Chicago, the East Aurora School District in Illinois bowed to the opposition and dissolved a committee it had tasked with improving school climate and instruction around gender identity.

In October 2012 the school board approved a transgender rights policy, only to find that local opposition leaders demanded a forum to discuss the board’s action. Nearly 100 people turned out at a meeting in late November, most expressing disapproval of the new policy. The board went on to revoke the policy and appointed a 22-member community-wide advisory committee to explore next steps. The stridency of opposition voices at the November meeting fostered a polarized atmosphere in the school district; according to one news source, “some committee members expressed concerns for their safety.”[1]

The Illinois Safe Schools Alliance criticized the school board for this latest instance of backpedaling, issuing a statement that “the people of East Aurora deserve better than a school board that cannot facilitate difficult – but necessary – conversations.”[2]

The board’s original actions in October were intended, among other things, to authorize students to be able to use their preferred names and gender pronouns (as an alternative to the names and gender pronouns assigned to them at birth); students would also have the right to use bathrooms according their gender identity rather than according to their assigned gender – and to have access to a private bathroom if requested.

The Illinois Family Institute (IFI) lost no time in capitalizing on the controversy in order to denounce more inclusive teaching practices and school policies on gender identity. Framing the issue as “gender confusion”, the IFI decried “how self-righteous and presumptuous homosexual and gender-confused activists have become from being coddled, wooed, apologized to, and deferred to.”[3]

School board president Annette Johnson “said she has heard about two transgender students, one middle and one elementary school student,”[4] whose parents sought more inclusive teaching practices and school policies for the support of their children. While acknowledging that transgender students are typically ignored in sexuality education textbooks and lesson plans, and are more vulnerable to bullying in school, Johnson insisted that disbanding the committee was necessary “to finally put this [issue] to rest and let the staff get back to working on the test scores and things like that.”[5]

Despite the IFI’s attacks on inclusive school practices, and the school board’s retreat into the more familiar territory of test scores, transgender activists and allies vow to continue to push East Aurora for more comprehensive teaching and support services related to gender identity. In the words of Shannon Sullivan of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, “there are ways that you can work on a procedural level.”[6]


[1] Kate Sosin, “Aurora District Ceases Work on Trans Policy,” Windy City Times, 18 December 2012, accessed 9 January 2013, <http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Aurora-district-ceases-work-on-trans-policy/40828.html>.

[2] Trudy Ring, “Illinois School District Dissolves Committee on Transgender Issues,” Advocate.com, 19 December 2012, accessed 9 January 2013, <http://www.advocate.com/politics/transgender/2012/12/19/illinois-school-district-dissolves-committee-transgender-issues>.

[3] Laura Higgins, “Gender-Confused Committee Member Villifies Aurora Faith Community,” Illinois Family Institute, 6 December 2012, accessed 9 January 2013, <http://illinoisfamily.org/education/gender-confused-committee-member-vilifies-aurora-faith-community/>.

[4]  “Suburban School Board Backs Off Transgender Protections,” WBEZ 91.5 Chicago, 18 December 2012, accessed 9 January 2013, <http://www.wbez.org/news/suburban-school-board-backs-transgender-protections-104461>.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Sosin, “Aurora District Ceases Work…”.

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