On Tuesday, October 23, the school district of East Aurora decided to be on the right side of history. That day, its school board unanimously approved policies that would protect the district’s transgender students, making their schools safe spaces for students of all gender identities. The new policy permitted transgender students to use the restroom of their choice, to play on the sports team that correctly aligned with their gender identity and to use their chosen name and pronoun in school, even if a faculty member or administration made an issue of it. The policies gave transgender students the agency and protections they often lack in high school today, a culture that hasn’t gotten easier since my first day as a freshman over 10 years ago. We talk about it getting better for LGBT youth when they grow up and leave, but high school is a horrible, scary place sometimes, and trans youth need our help to fight the problems they face today. They can’t wait until tomorrow.
And that’s exactly what the East Aurora School Board promised their students: It gets better now.
But just as quickly as they were enacted, protections for transgender students went away. After the policies were announced to the media, the Illinois Family Institute — a Christian organization based in Wheaton, Illinois, described as the “Vatican City of Christian fundamentalism” — called the protections a ” biased, radical and offensive school board decision that all Illinois taxpayers (especially Aurora community members with or without children in school) should vigorously and tenaciously oppose.” In her plea to get Illinois Family Institute followers to take action against East Aurora’s measure, Laurie Higgins (the “Cultural Analyst” for IFI) further writes:
The school board is now imposing non-objective, ‘progressive’ moral, philosophical, and political beliefs — not facts — about gender confusion on the entire school. This feckless school board has made a decision to accommodate not the needs of gender-confused teens, but their disordered desires and the desires of gender/sexuality anarchists who exploit public education for their perverse ends… Gender confusion affects approximately .003 percent of males and .0001 percent of females. Aurora East High School is now accommodating the disordered impulses and unproven beliefs of a statistically miniscule segment of their population and in so doing ignores the beliefs of the majority. Some would argue that this policy also reflects a gross distortion of compassion and profound ignorance about what truly helps the few students who suffer from gender dysphoria or Gender Identity Disorder.”
Responding to Higgins’ hate-filled screed, IFI supporters put so much pressure on East Aurora that the school board met again to discuss reversing the decision. One of the school board members, Stella Gonzalez, claimed to have received over 1,000 emails during IFI’s siege on the East Aurora School District, a district that few of those complaining about the policy actually lived in. However, those who did actually live in the district showed up in droves that Friday to support the policy, as concerned parents, friends, neighbors and community members who want the best for their students. The day that the policies were repealed, supportive East Aurorans pleaded the school board to keep the new transgender protections and put their students before the demands of hatemongers. Mother-of-four Joanna Kenyon gave voice to the “floods of support” in a heartfelt testimony to the East Aurora School Board: