CHICAGO – Student A, the young woman at the center of a very public debate in suburban Chicago about use of locker room facilities for students who are transgender, today joined with her parents, two other families with students (Student B and Student C) who are transgender in District 211 and a statewide group that works with LGBT youth to file a motion with the federal district court in Chicago to join the lawsuit filed by two anti-LGBT rights groups in early May.
The lawsuit seeks to block Student A, as well as other students who are transgender in District 211, from using bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. The lawsuit also seeks to block the federal government – though the Department of Justice and the Department of Education – from interpreting Title IX to ensure fair and humane treatment of transgender students.
“Our daughter’s voice, the voice of other students who are transgender in District 211 and other concerned parties need to be heard by the public and by the court in this lawsuit,” said the Mother of Student A in joining the intervenors. “Through these voices, we hope that others will come to understand and accept that a transgender girl is a girl and a transgender boy is a boy.”
“These students do not pose a threat simply because they use the bathroom and locker room that matches their identity,” the Mother added. “However, if our daughter is forced into the boys’ locker room, she and the boys she is forced to change with will experience real emotion trauma.”
Student B and Student C both are in feeder schools in District 211, where they will attend high school. Both are transgender boys, and fear that if the anti-LGBT rights groups are successful, then they will not be able to use the restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity during high school. Both describe this possibility as “emotionally devastating.”
In addition to the students and parents from the District the motion today also was filed on behalf of the Illinois Safe School Alliance. The Alliance is the pre-eminent organization in Illinois working to assist schools create safe and affirming policies in school districts across the state, policies aimed at improving life for LGBTQ students through advocacy, education, youth organizing and research.
This marks the very first time that the Alliance has joined a federal lawsuit as a party. The organization felt the step was necessary because an adverse ruling in this case potentially could reverse policies that ensure a safe environment for LGBT students, policies that allow the students to focus on their education, not being bullied and harassed, in dozens of school districts across the Chicagoland area and throughout Illinois where Alliance staff and volunteers have worked.
“This lawsuit ignores the reality that policies granting transgender students access to bathrooms and locker rooms are working across Illinois,” said Owen Daniel-McCarter, policy and advocacy director for the Alliance. “We did not feel like we could permit these two anti-LGBT groups reversed years of good work in schools in Illinois – not without making sure that our voice is heard.”
The motion for intervention comes after the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which represented Student A in her original complaint to the Department of Education, heard from dozens of parents and as many students from District 211 who objected to the lawsuit filed in March. Many of the parents have students in the District (or students in schools that feed in to the high school district) and did not want the parents who spoke at the press conference in May announcing the lawsuit, including those who chose to mis-gender Student A repeatedly and deliberately, to represent the entire District 211 community.
“We were overwhelmed by the number of parents and students who came forward, seeking some way to demonstrate their commitment to a fair and welcoming environment for transgender students in their local high schools,” said John Knight, LGBT Project Director at the ACLU of Illinois. “This confirmed for us that most of the community wants to treat every student with the dignity and fairness they deserve, not as targets for attack.”
“In the end, we believe it is urgent that the voices of parents and student who are directly affected are part of this discussion.”
The three students who are transgender – Student A, Student B, and Student C – and their families are filing the motion anonymously to protect their privacy.
The action today is the latest in a series of events going back more than two years. After the parents of Student A attempted unsuccessfully to get locker room access for their daughter in conversations with school officials, the family filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. OCR conducted an extensive and exhaustive investigation into the circumstances in District 211. Even before the Department released their findings, school officials announced publicly that they would not comply with the Department’s findings and launched a cynical and aggressive public relations campaign that fanned the flames of anti-transgender anger on the part of a small group of people in the area.
After the Department of Education publicly issued findings in November 2015, stating that District 211 was in violation of Title IX when it denied Student A access to the locker room, the school and the Department reached an agreement in December of last year to resolve the matter. Although District 211 reports that the agreement has been implemented without incident or problem, the anti-transgender rights groups, the Thomas More Society and the Alliance Defending Freedom, filed their lawsuit in early May riddled with specious and hyperbolic claims of harms to students in the school.
According to today’s filing, Student A has stopped changing in the girls’ locker room at her school due to the attention of the lawsuit and the false and misleading claims made by the anti-LGBT groups. District 211 officials have said that the agreement was being implemented without incident. Now, however, Student A attends gym class in her street clothes, rather than change clothes in the locker room and risk further unwarranted attention.
“We have monitored this agreement very closely,” added the ACLU’s Knight. “Students and school officials all have spoken to how this agreement has been implemented without any problems – that is the reality we know.”
The case is before U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso who will decide if the ACLU’s clients can join the matter.
In addition to Mr. Knight, the families seeking intervention are represented by Ria Tabacco Mar of the ACLU National LGBT Project, and Timothy Bishop, Britt Miller, Laura Hammargren, Catherine Bernard, and Linda Shi all of the Chicago office of Mayer Brown as well as Catherine Bernard of the Washington DC office of Mayer Brown.
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