A school district in the Chicago suburbs has agreed to provide a transgender girl access to the girls’ locker room, resolving a complaint the student had brought against it with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, winning a landmark ruling from the department.
The Township High School District 211 board in Palatine agreed to the move early Thursday morning in a meeting that had stretched from the night before, with many parents speaking in opposition to the action and a smaller number in support, the Chicago Tribune reports.
One of the opponents, Jeff Miller, said his daughter would be uncomfortable changing with someone she deems male in the locker room, even with the privacy curtains the school will provide for the trans student and any others who request them.
“The difference is in how we define gender,” Miller said. “I define it by based on biology, and the other side defines it based on gender identity, which is essentially nothing but a belief. … This is not a civil rights issue.”
Another opponent, Bill Nix, said board members “ought to be ashamed of themselves,” adding, “Why are we bending over backward for one student? What happened to majority rules?”
“How do we teach our kids that sexting is wrong and nudity is wrong and pornography is wrong, yet it’s OK to see the opposite sex in your locker room if they feel this way?” said another parent, Jennifer Soloway. “They still have the anatomy of the opposite sex. If they didn’t have the anatomy, it would be different.”
But a supportive parent, Teresa Saunders, asked the board, “What if this were your child? I can’t imagine anything more damaging for a student than to be told they are different from all their fellow students. In doing so, the administration is treating them as though they weren’t human beings at all.”
In the end, after two hours of public comment and a three-hour closed-door meeting, the board voted 5-2 to allow the student access to private changing stations in the girls’ locker room, the Tribune reports. The student is already listed in the district’s database as female, has unlimited access to girls’ restrooms, and is allowed to participate in girls’ sports.
But she had previously been offered only separate facilities to use when changing for sports and physical education classes, leading the Department of Education to rule last month that the Palatine district was in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibit gender discrimination in education. This was the first time the department had made such a finding in a case involving a transgender student, according to a departmental press release.
If the district had not made the accommodations, it risked lawsuits and loss of federal funding. In addition to offering the student access to the girls’ locker room and providing the privacy curtains, it will make additional privacy accommodations, within reason, for any student who requests them; coordinate with hosts of off-campus, district-sponsored activities to assure the transgender student will have access to facilities for female students; engage a consultant with expertise in child and adolescent gender identity to support and assist the district in implementing the resolution agreement; set up a support team, if requested by the transgender student and her parents, to ensure that she has access and the opportunity to participate in all district programs and activities, and is otherwise protected from gender-based discrimination at ; adopt and publish a revised notice of nondiscrimination on the basis of sex; and provide the Office of Civil Rights with a copy or detailed description of all gender-based discrimination or harassment complaints or incidents.
District officials said they admitted no wrongdoing and that the new policy applied only to the student in question. Not applying it district-wide is a “terrible mistake,” said the student’s attorney, John Knight, LGBT and HIV Project director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
“Our client had the personal resources and parental support to fight for equal treatment and locker room access. Not every student does,” Knight said in a statement issued to the Tribune. “Districts that care about the safety and dignity of their transgender students make it clear up front that gender-appropriate restrooms and locker rooms are available, rather than putting the burden on transgender students to fight for what the law requires.”