Three years ago, Vice President Joe Biden was quoted saying transgender discrimination is the “civil rights issue of our time.” And here in our home state of Illinois, in School District 211, we are seeing this issue play out right now. In 2013, a student filed a case against her school in District 211 on the basis of being denied access to the locker room because she is transgender. Now, two years later negotiations between the Office of Civil Rights and District 211 are happening, while the student is still being denied access to the locker room.
As we bear witness to this case unfolding and read story after story where the student is mis-gendered, and reduced to anatomy, we have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to educate people whose ignorance is shining through about gender identity and gender expression. We can initiate conversations about this case as a way of raising awareness among our friends and family about transgender issues.
We have an opportunity to, as Jake Lytle, a student in District 211 stated at the Board hearing on December 2nd in support of his fellow student to, “Choose boldly and make history.” We can choose boldly to redefine what it means to be truly inclusive, particularly as it applies to the rights of transgender students.
We have the responsibility to ensure that schools are equipped to provide educational environments that are free from discrimination and persecution for all their students. We are at a moment in time where the question, ‘can separate actually be equal,’ is being asked again. And based on our history, we know that the answer to this question is a resounding “No.” But we can’t stop at that “No.” We must do the work to educate ourselves and others about the damage that occurs when people are forced to prove and defend their gender identity in order to participate in school requirements and community. We must look at, hold, and take responsibility for the staggering statistics that inform us about the rates of violence that transgender and gender nonconforming people are subjected to.
We must not let this opportunity slip past us.