Illinois’s East Aurora School Board does not have the courage of its convictions, having once again given up on protecting transgender students. In October, the district innocuously passed a policy that would protect transgender students’ ability to identity with their authentic gender. The Illinois Family Institute, an anti-LGBT hate group, objected to the accommodations for “gender-confused teens,” and four days after passing it, the school board rescinded the policy.
Despite caving, there was hope that East Aurora would still do right by its trans students. The board formed an ad hoc committee to explore the issues with a goal of forming an alternative policy. However, when the committee met, over a hundred community members came to protest, claiming that protecting trans students was somehow “destructive” and that it would threaten the safety of other students if they were allowed to use the appropriate bathrooms. These arguments were of course spurred again by the Illinois Family Institute, which went so far as to encourage the bullying of trans students. The outcry overwhelmed the committee, which decided to put the transgender policy on hold. Now, they’ve abandoned it entirely.
The committee was not designed to be effective in the first place. Rather than focus on researching the policy, the committee allowed itself to be overwhelmed by public comment. The crowd was so against the effort that security had to be called to protect committee members. Anthony Martinez, executive director of Illinois LGBT advocacy group The Civil Rights Agenda, sat on the committee and described it as a “failure of leadership”:
MARTINEZ: I think it was a failure of leadership by the school board. I think the folks handling this from the beginning were out of their depth. You only have to look and see that the Ad Hoc committee never once discussed the matter of policy. All we did was sit and listen to people voice their displeasure.
Indeed, the school board’s failure was ever questioning itself in the first place or creating space for a hate group’s influence to play out. The end result was stirred up antipathy towards trans people with no real progress for the safety of the students at risk.