Legal Fight Highlights Challenges and Discrimination Faced by Transgender Students
Equality Illinois urges support for Illinois student in dispute with school board
CHICAGO (December 7, 2015) –As the legal situation continues to unfold in Township High School District 211 regarding a transgender student’s equal right to access the school locker room that corresponds to her gender identity, we at Equality Illinois believe this is an opportunity for awareness and education about transgender people and the significant challenges and discrimination they encounter in life.
The school district said it would allow the transgender student access to the girls locker room because she has represented that she will change in curtained changing stations. The district had initially proposed requiring the transgender student to use curtained privacy areas while allowing the other female students the option to use such spaces. We know from American history that separate is not equal.
The only fair and equal option is to ensure transgender students have access, without conditions, to the locker room that corresponds to their gender identity. To do otherwise would send the message to transgender students that they are not respected and valued by the very administrators who are responsible for fostering a safe and welcoming space for learning and development.
More and more transgender people, including young people, are living openly according to their authentic gender identity. This openness is changing public attitudes about the transgender community.
Still, the overall situation in Township High School District 211 illustrates the misunderstanding among administrators, parents, and the public about the lives of transgender people. Too often, transgender people are singled out and pressured to accommodate the attitudes and stereotypes of others.
At play in Township High School District 211 is a policy that a transgender girl shall not be allowed access to the girls locker room like other girls because of her anatomy. In fact, it is critical to the mental and physical health of a transgender person that they be able to live according to their gender identity. This means using facilities that correspond to their gender identity. If a district chooses to add privacy areas, it should remain the decision of any student to use them and not single out the transgender student.
Such misunderstanding, misinformation, and, in some cases, outright prejudice can have terrible impacts on the lives of transgender people. Among transgender and gender non-conforming people:
- 78% report harassment in grades K-12, with 35% also reporting physical assault;
- 90% report harassment, discrimination, or mistreatment in the workplace; and
- 41% report attempting suicide (versus less than two percent of the general population).
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who are socially stigmatized or rejected are more likely to have high levels of depression, engage in substance abuse, and attempt suicide. And at least 23 transgender women and gender non-conforming people have been killed in 2015, many of them people of color.
As in Township High School District 211, what’s needed is community support of transgender students and increased education and outreach to the broader public about the lives of transgender Illinoisans. Instead of ostracizing transgender youth, institutions and citizens need to learn from them. Equality Illinois is committed to this work.
We at Equality Illinois also affirm the work done by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois in this case. The ACLU of Illinois has provided dedicated representation of the transgender student and steadfastly pursued equal treatment of transgender youth. The ACLU of Illinois is a great partner in the effort to ensure lived equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Illinoisans.