It looks like the clusterfuck, for lack of a more appropriate word, in East Aurora, Illinois around providing protections for trans* students has finally come to its bitter end. I say finally, because in the past three months I've covered this story five times (today is number six) in the What You Need To Know segment for this blog, twice devoting my WYNTK opening essay to the situation.
In case you've missed this story, allow me to fill in the details:
- On Monday October 15th, the East Aurora School Board adopted a new policy intended to enumerate and protect the rights of trans* and gender-non-conforming students within their district.
- Facing a firm backlash led by the Illinois Family Institute, an organization recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a designated hate-group, on October 18th the school board rescinded the policy.
- Shortly after, the board publicly debated firing the person who suggested the policy, which had been overwhelmingly supported by the board in the October 15th vote.
- On October 27th the board announced that they would form an ad hoc committee to investigate the issue further and make a policy recommendation. When it was announced that the committee meeting would be open to the public, I expressed my fear that the result would be a circus of anti-trans* sentiment.
- November 30th's meeting proved my fears to be correct. Over one hundred and twenty protestors, coordinated by the Illinois Family Institute, which publicly calls trans* women "cross dressing men," and encourages teachers and parents to mis-gender trans* kids in order to "correct" them, showed up at the meeting carrying protest signs and booing or shouting down speakers who advocated for the rights of trans* students.
- Finally, on December 17th, the East Aurora School Board, showing an utter lack of understanding of the concept irony, disbanded the committee, saying that it had
served the purpose of bringing the community together As a compromise, the school district agreed to bring their own anti-bullying policy up to the standards of the State of Illinois, which does classify gender identity and expression as a protected group in that context.
Mark my words, this will not be the last time we see this story play out, although I believe it's unlikely that we will see it develop with quite the same shocking level of ineptitude shown by East Aurora's school board.
In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, a nearly blow-by-blow version of this tale played out in Orange County Florida, where the school district had been openly working to update their non-discrimination policies to include trans* protections, in line with their anti-bullying policy. Although there had been no controversy over the course of the process, as it neared implementation, a call to action from the head of the Florida Family Policy Council brought two hundred protestors to a board meeting. From available reports, the protestors used signs, language, and strategies that neatly mirrored those used twelve hundred miles to north in Chicago.
Showing that it is possible to stand up to bigotry however, the Orange County School Board voted to implement the anti-discrimination policy for teachers and students anyway.
The Family Policy Council is an affiliate of the anti-LGBT hate group the Family Research Council. While the Illinois Family Institute is not listed as among FRC's affiliates, there's a high likelihood that the two are connected. We've been seeing a growing push from the right wing against trans* people, and trans* children in particular. It's safe to say that we should expect this sort of ground-level interference to increase as more and more cities and towns seek to protect the rights of trans* people and children.
I doubt many of us watching the East Aurora story expected it to end in any result other than a loss for trans* students, but that doesn't mean we can't feel discouraged and upset about it all. By creating the ad hoc committee and providing a public platform for the bigots from the Illinois Family Institute to pass judgement not only on trans* equality, but on the fundamental identity of trans* people, they've added insult to injury, and I despair at how vulnerable and hurt a trans* child in that district could easily be left feeling.
Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that the school board knew how the meeting would go down. They knew the IFI would bring out hate and ignorance in big numbers, providing political cover for the board to then declare abandoning plans to protect trans* students as the "will of the people," so to speak.
What began as a positive step forward in acceptance and inclusiveness three months ago, quickly degraded into a bullying and name calling, before finally ending with a major victory for the anti-LGBT right. I hope that the board is half as disgusted with themselves as I am.
As a community, we need to start preparing now for the next fight in the next city. Simple reason, facts, and appeals for empathy are not going to work against a tide of ignorant and fearful parents, who've been convinced by the FRC and their allies that trans* children are going to rape and abuse their innocent darlings (seriously). We need a new message, and we need it fast. Florida notwithstanding, the bigots have a head start, and a big victory under their belts already.
(img src: School Bullies from Bigstock.com)