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December 21, 2012

East Aurora School Board

This has been a tumultuous fall and early winter for the East Aurora School District in Aurora, Illinois. On Monday, October 15th, the East Aurora School Board voted unanimously to approve a great policy that protected the district’s transgender students’ right to privacy, respect, and equal opportunity. The policy (which would have asked school administrators to deal with these issues on a case-by-case basis) would have required teachers and school personnel to address a student by the name and pronoun that corresponds to the student’s gender identity, would have given students access to the restroom and locker rooms that corresponds to their gender identity,  allowed students to dress appropriately, and would have ensured that transgender students had the same opportunities in physical education and sports as cisgender students.

The policy had been in the works for months and was sparked by a parent seeking more protection for their transgender child.

On Wednesday, October 17th, the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), an organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, generated hundreds of emails to the school district demanding they overturn the policy. The vast majority of these emails came from outside of the school district. As a result of the pressure, the Board voted on October 19th, just four days after enacting the policy and in the face of hundreds of supporters, to rescind it. A committee was established to analyze the situation and make recommendations for a new policy, but after even more hateful demonstrations from the IFI, the committee was disbanded this week. The Board's decision to cave to the IFI sends a terrible message to students in the district for a variety of reasons. For many students, it shows that their school board is susceptible to caving under pressure from outside groups, even when those groups are designated hate groups. The Board's decision also leaves transgender and gender nonconforming students in a policy purgatory, their privacy still violated and respect and equality not guaranteed. GLSEN believes that school boards everywhere should focus on creating climates of tolerance and respect for others within their schools. It is with this in mind that we developed our Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students, a model policy for school districts aimed at reducing stigmatization and improving the educational integration of transgender and gender nonconforming students, maintaining the privacy of all students, and fostering cultural competence and professional development for school staff. We hope the East Aurora School Board, as well as school boards across the country, learn from it and create policies under which transgender and gender nonconforming students have the same educational and extra-curricular opportunities as their cisgender peers.