Metro Weekly

Anti-transgender school board candidates lose in Illinois

Arrangement allowing transgender student to use girls' locker room was major issue in school board election

Palatine High School District 211 students in the cafeteria – Photo: Facebook.

An attempted coup by social conservatives in a suburban Chicago school district has been shot down, allowing the district to continue its current arrangement that allows transgender students to use facilities that match their gender identity.

For the past few years, Palatine Township High School District 211 has been at center stage in the battle over transgender students’ rights. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found that the school district had discriminated against a transgender female student by denying her access to the girls’ locker room. Under pressure from the Obama administration, the district adopted a policy that allows the student, known as Student A, to use the girls’ locker room, with the understanding that she would use a private changing station that was also available for other students who wished to have a greater degree of privacy.

After the school board agreed to the arrangement, conservatives mounted several efforts to overturn the policy. They formed a group known as Parents for Privacy, which subsequently obtained legal representation from the right-wing Alliance Defending Freedom. They then sued the district, alleging that the pro-transgender policy violates the privacy rights of cisgender students who are uncomfortable being around transgender students. That lawsuit is ongoing. 

When a judge refused to halt the policy while the lawsuit moves forward, three individuals, running as a slate known as “Parents With Purpose,” announced they would challenge the incumbent school board members. Those three candidates — Ralph Bonatz, Katherine Jee Young David and Jean Forrest — opposed any tax increases to pay for schools and called for better community representation, the crux of their arguments largely focused around overturning the District’s current arrangement with Student A, the Daily Herald reports. 

LGBTQ advocates had expressed concern that the anti-transgender slate would radically alter the restroom and locker room policy that the incumbent board had worked hard to negotiate. But it seems those worries were for naught: on Tuesday night, incumbents Anna Klimkowicz and Robert LeFevre, Jr. were re-elected, along with former board member Edward Yung, who publicly supported the arrangement with Student A.

“I think that what it says is the community thinks we’re doing a good job,” Klimkowicz told the Daily Herald. “I think the community is aware of the transgender issue, but is supportive of the solution that we came up with because it was the most fair to all students.”

Parents for Privacy issued a statement on its Facebook page thanking the candidates for running, even though they came up short. The group alleges that outside money “poured in” to influence the school board election. (However, the Chicago Tribune previously reported that the “Parents With Purpose” slate had received money from outside sources, including a Lake Forest resident and GOP donor Richard Uihlein, who is known for contributing millions to conservative candidates and causes.)

“The opponents’ budget was limitless,” the statement reads, accusing the incumbents and Yung of failing to report in-kind contributions to their campaigns. “With their unlimited budget, misinformation spread like wildfire. Sadly, our local mainstream media failed to be a valid source of voter information and many still depend on the newspapers for this information. It’s a big problem. … Voters did not have the full story on the history of the opponents as the media insisted on making this a one-issue campaign.

“We know what we stand for and it’s ALL children equally. Schools have a duty to protect the privacy, dignity, and well-being of every child. That is not happening in D211 and we will not rest until that changes.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com