Recently, the Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force delivered its report Strengthening Inclusion in Illinois Schools to Governor Pritzker detailing the procedures that Illinois schools should adopt to support transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-confirming students. For me, it was an honor to serve on this Task Force alongside the diverse group of educators, students, and advocates who worked on the report. 

The report’s message is simple: schools in Illinois must respect and affirm students’ gender identity and expression. The Task Force’s goal was to come up with the most impactful ways that schools can create a more inclusive environment for transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming students through better policies, improved teacher preparation, comprehensive sexual education curriculum, and greater inclusion of these youth in school-based activities.

Over the years, the ACLU of Illinois has represented several transgender students whose schools did not respect or affirm them, including Student A, P.S., Alex McCray, and Nova Maday. Their bravery helped change the landscapes at their schools and led to big policy changes in our state. Without them -- and numerous other transgender, nonbinary and gender non-conforming youth who have advocated for themselves and other students -- none of this progress would have been possible. These youth are an inspiration. It is also extremely satisfying for me to see so many of our clients’ legal cases are cited in the report as precedents. These young people’s courage will forever be honored in the Task Force’s report.

Over and over, we have seen the harm done to students when they are singled out for being their authentic selves. In a recent study, 78% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity and 58% reported being discouraged from using the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. These students are also at a much higher risk for bullying, suicide, and substance abuse. We also know that affirming these youth will save lives and improve their overall chance of success in the future.  

I am hopeful that school districts across our state will use the report to better understand how to create more inclusive environments within their schools. District leaders and parents can easily adopt the procedures and guidelines contained in the report. It’s especially important in 2020, given the deficiency of leadership from the federal government and the wave of anti-LGBTQ policies being modeled by the current federal administration.  

We also look forward to additional guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Human Rights, especially for updating procedures for names and gender markers and compliance with the Illinois Human Rights Act. There should be absolutely no ambiguity about the responsibility of school districts to protect and affirm all of their students.

We still have a long way to go to achieve educational equity for transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming students in Illinois and especially among youth of color. This is just one step forward, but it is a really important one. I look forward to continuing the work.