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Parents Demand Palatine Schools Be Welcoming To All Transgender Students

By Emma G. Gallegos in News on Jun 15, 2016 8:40PM

We think Illinois could use more gender neutral bathrooms, actually. Via Shutterstock.

A school district in Palatine has been at the center of a legal battle over transgender students' rights to do what every other cisgendered student takes for granted: use the bathroom and locker-room of the gender that matches their gender identity.

So far this battle has involved one transgender student known as Student A fighting for her rights, the Department of Education who is supporting her, District 211, which allows her to use a women's bathroom but not change in front of women, and a vocal group of parents who don't seem to believe that transgender students exist at all. This group of parents recently filed a suit against the federal government saying that anything that treats, say, a transgender female as a female creates a "intimidating and hostile environment" for all the other students.

Now a group of parents, students and former students have stepped into the fray to support Student A. They've penned an open letter encouraging the District 211 to honor the rights of all transgender students as the Department of Education mandated and also to educate the community.

The letter reads, "We stand committed to the basic principle that no student should be left out, treated differently, or stigmatized because of who they are. We also strongly believe that discrimination towards a group of students hurts the entire District 211 community, while celebrating, protecting, and promoting diversity enriches and improves the community in a number of ways."

The letter was posted on the site of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which has been arguing on behalf of Student A. (The ACLU recently was granted permission to join the Department of Education in fighting the suit that a group of transphobic parents filed against the department. The ACLU enlisted other transgender students entering the district in fall, who argued that the suit will affect them as well as Student A.)

ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said that this letter was written to fight the perception that all the parents in Palatine were siding with vocal transphobic groups.

"We were approached by a number of different people, parents and students, that wanted to somehow have their voices heard in this case," Yohnka told Chicagoist.

Here is a key passage:

...we strongly support efforts in District 211 to allow students who are transgender to use the restrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with their gender identity. We therefore support the District’s agreement with the Department of Education to allow Student A to use the girls’ locker rooms for the simple reason that Student A is a girl. We also support the District’s decision to allow Student A and other students who are transgender to use the restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity, rather than compelling these students to use separate facilities that often are remote and single the student out. Such a policy can send a signal to other students of intolerance and fear, suggesting that transgender students are different and should be shunned or avoided, and increases the chance that transgender students and other vulnerable students will be bullied or harassed in and out of school.

We believe, moreover, that the District can do better by clarifying that all transgender students may use the locker rooms consistent with their gender identity and without restricting these students, and only the students who are transgender, to dressing behind privacy curtains. We know that schools across the nation permit students who are transgender to use the gender-appropriate restrooms and locker rooms, without any reported problems or incidents. We implore the District to develop a policy that will ensure that every transgender student is treated fairly and respectfully. As a large and pre-eminent school district, District 211 can put into place a policy of the sort that has worked so well in
other Illinois districts and nationwide.

We believe that accepting and integrating transgender students into all aspects of the student body enhances the educational environment and quality of life in District 211 because students who are transgender are a diverse and talented group whose gifts and skills contribute and lift up the entire student body. We also believe that welcoming students as full members of our community teaches all students the critical lesson of accepting those who are different from themselves and finding ways to live with and learn from them. We believe that a majority of students in the District want transgender students to be treated fairly and would like District’s policies to reflect their views and serve as a model for the rest of our community.

Student A has identified as a woman from a young age, is undergoing hormone treatment and is identified as a woman on her passport, according to the NYTimes. She was able to play women's sports and use the women's restroom at the school, but the district pushed back on allowing her in the locker room. Since some parents filed a suit misgendering her and saying she doesn't belong in women's facilities at all, Yohnka has said she's felt like she has a target on her back.

The letter gracefully asks that not only should the school district itself accept students as the gender they identify with, but also that the district take pains to educate its students and parents:

To further allay the fears of any student or parent, we hope that the District will continue the public education and awareness that has been on-going, because it is only by addressing concerns in a respectful, thoughtful way that we will be able to discover the needs of the entire community. Through education and dialogue, we hope that others will come to understand that a transgender girl is a girl and a transgender boy is a boy.

You can read the entire letter here.