After years of advocacy led by brave students who are transgender, the Illinois Human Rights Commission has now ruled that Illinois law requires public schools to provide transgender students with full and equal use of restrooms and locker rooms. The decision came in a case brought by a high school student against the Lake Park Community District 108 in suburban Roselle. The ACLU is not identifying the student in this release because of his request to maintain his privacy.

The student filed a complaint with the Department of Human Rights after being denied use of the locker room unless he agreed to dress separately from other students behind a privacy curtain. The ACLU of Illinois LGBTQ & HIV Project represented him in filing the complaint, and has offered similar assistance to several other students challenging similar forms of discrimination in recent years. The Department dismissed the charge, but on appeal the Commission reversed, finding that “the District’s sole motivation in mandating that the [student] use a privacy curtain to change clothes while using the boys’ locker room was rooted in the [student’s] gender-related identity, transgender male” and that such a “mandatory limitation requiring privacy curtain usage” amounted to a denial of full and equal use of the District’s facility” in violation of the Human Rights Act.    

“This is such a wonderful victory for the students who have fought for the respect and fairness they deserve. The Illinois Human Rights Commission has made it clear that the state law requirement that transgender students be accorded full and equal use of all school facilities extends to restrooms and locker rooms and that school policies of the sort put in place in this district violate state law,” said John Knight of the ACLU in announcing the decision. “Our public schools should be a place where all students can learn and thrive, but that is only possible when every student is able to live authentically rather than being singled out and separated from their peers because they are transgender.”

Over the past several years, the ACLU has assisted transgender students in school districts fighting to put an end to these districts’ practice of placing restrictions on these students’ use of locker rooms that the schools do not put on non-transgender students. The most notable of these fights took place in suburban District 211, where the ACLU represented both “Student A” and Nova Maday in their challenge to restrictions placed on them by their schools. The ACLU also marked a success in the downstate Williamsville-Sherman School District, which settled a complaint about the use of sex-specific facilities brought by a transgender student, Alex McCray.  

In some instances, school districts (often assisted by anti-transgender outside groups) have argued that the Human Rights Act does not require that students who are transgender be given full and equal use of restrooms and locker rooms. These schools have argued in various ways that it was legal to treat transgender students differently from their non-transgender peers. The Human Rights Commission’s finding puts aside that argument.  

“In finding substantial evidence of discrimination in District 108, the Human Rights Commission confirmed what should have already be abundantly clear -- full and equal inclusion of transgender students is the law of this state,” added Knight.  

The ACLU also noted that this finding underscores the need for public schools in Illinois to adopt inclusive policies for their students, including their students who are transgender. It also highlights the importance of a recent executive order issued by Governor JB Pritzker that calls on the State Board of Education to develop inclusive policies for schools across Illinois to adopt.  Such a model policy should recognize that Illinois law requires full and equal use of restrooms and locker rooms for all students.