Metro Weekly

Illinois governor signs order ensuring schools have resources to help trans students

Order establishes a task force to develop recommendations for educators on dealing with trans students

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs an order to help transgender and nonbinary students. – Photo: Office of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, via Facebook.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) has issued an executive order aimed at ensuring schools have resources to help transgender, nonbinary and gender non-conforming students.

Appearing at Chicago’s Lake View High School during Chicago Pride weekend, Pritzker signed an order establishing a 25-member task force that will develop policy recommendations on how best to educate school officials on issues affecting transgender students, including their ability to use bathrooms matching their gender identity, dress codes, correct pronouns, and name changes.

The “Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force” — comprised of students, parents, teachers, medical professionals with experience in transgender health care, and LGBTQ community activists — will submit their recommendations to the Illinois Board of Education to be published online.

The recommendations — due by Jan. 1, 2020 — will not be binding, meaning schools will not be required to implement them, but will serve as a resource for “best practices” that schools may adopt if they so choose, reports the Chicago Sun-Times

“This executive order is one more step toward securing Illinois’ place as a leader in equality and hope,” Pritzker said before signing the order. “Under this executive order, ignorance is no longer an excuse for bigotry.”

According to GLSEN’s 2017 National School Climate Survey, 34.8% of LGBTQ students nationally said they missed at least one day of school in the past month due to feeling unsafe.

More than 70% of LGBTQ students reported experiencing verbal harassment due to their sexual orientation, with 59% saying they experienced verbal harassment due to their gender identity.

More than a quarter of LGBTQ students say they were physically harassed, meaning pushed or shoved, due to their gender or gender expression, and another 10% say they were seriously physically assaulted or attacked with a weapon due to their gender identity or expression.

Among Illinois students, 61% of LGBTQ students said they faced verbal harassment based on gender expression and 52% experienced such harassment based on gender.

Twenty-two percent and 20% percent of LGBTQ students said they were physically harassed based on gender expression and gender, respectively.

“The vast majority [of trans students] report they experience discrimination in their schools or classrooms. Left without adequate protections, they avoid school functions, their extracurriculars, their bathrooms, locker rooms, sometimes even skipping out on the entire school day itself,” Pritzker said in his remarks at Lake View High School. “They feel unsafe in the very institutions that are meant to foster their curiosities, their passions, their beliefs. That’s not who we are in Illinois. It’s unacceptable and it ends now.”

He later took to Twitter to tout the newly signed order, tweeting:  “I just signed an executive order to disrupt the patterns of discrimination in our classrooms and ensure our school across the state are affirming and inclusive for transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming students.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, an out lesbian, who was present at the signing ceremony, praised the governor’s order.

“This executive order is about more than protecting the young members of our transgender community, it’s an important first step towards ensuring every Illinois student has the safe space that allows them to reach their full potential,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “Ending the intolerable levels of discrimination and violence against our transgender community starts here — in our schools — by making the values of tolerance and respect just as much a part of our educational culture as academics, athletics, and the arts.” 

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

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