There have been many cases making national news regarding which restrooms transgender students are allowed to use. Some schools have been allowing students to use faculty only restrooms, but that has often been deemed too accommodating and discriminatory, with one case in Maine finding fault of the school district to the tune of $75,000. Many schools from elementary to college have successfully been addressing the debate by accommodating all parties by constructing all gender, all people, or gender neutral restrooms.
But what about locker rooms? Is that a different argument? Should it be a different set of rules where nudity is most likely to take place out in the open where opposite gender sexual organs will be out in the open for all to see instead of within a restroom stall?
Amid cries from opponents of "shame on you" and "gutless cowards," the Township High School District 211 school board voted early Thursday to give a transgender student access to the girls' locker room, settling a case that thrust the district into the national spotlight and caused deep divisions in the community.
Hundreds of people gathered in the cafeteria at Hoffman Estates' Conant High School on Wednesday evening for the school board meeting, and a large majority of speakers in the standing-room-only crowd said they were against a settlement that would allow the student, who was born male but identifies as female, to use the girls' locker room.
Some opponents carried signs with messages like, "Settling is losing."
"Whether the young man wants to admit or not … he is a man," said another attendee.
"God does not make mistakes. God made man, and then God made woman," added a third.
The state's largest high school district has been the national focus of the debate over transgender student accommodations in schools since, in an unprecedented move, federal officials ruled last month that the district had broken the law against discrimination in education.
District officials had made some accommodations for the student but had stopped short of complying with the federal directive to offer full access to the girls' locker room. They offered the student a curtained-off area in which to change and shower, acknowledging that they were risking lawsuits and the loss of millions of dollars in federal funding.
With the settlement, the student has agreed to use the private areas of the locker room to change and shower, district officials said.
The 5-2 vote came as the deadline loomed before such penalties could kick in. The outcome was announced after about two hours of public comments and then a three-hour closed-door board meeting. Board members Peter Dombrowski and Lauanna Recker cast the no votes.
The settlement, though, seemed unlikely to end the controversy. Community members spoke passionately on both sides of the issue.
"Discrimination of any form is wrong," said one district mother who spoke in support of the transgender student.
Another parent, Teresa Saunders, choked back tears as she appealed to the board to consider, "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," she said. "In doing so, the administration is treating them as though they weren't human beings at all."
A handful of students who spoke all came out in support of the transgender student, with one, Jake Lytle, saying, "Choose boldly and make history. Accept this agreement."
In a statement released after the vote, Superintendent Daniel Cates said the settlement in the case applies only to the student in question and is not a districtwide policy. He also said the district "categorically refutes the notion of any violation of the law or form of discrimination."
John Knight of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which represents the student, said that while he was pleased to see the board approve the settlement for his client, he called it a "terrible mistake" not to extend locker room access to other transgender students.
"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. "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."
Before the vote was taken, many speakers indicated that they simply didn't agree with the stance taken by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, where the student filed a complaint against the district, that laws against gender discrimination apply to one's identified gender, rather than one's biological gender.
"I'm not intolerant, and I'm not a bigot," said Jeff Miller, a parent of a daughter in the district. "People have the right in this country to live their lives the way they see fit, and I respect that. When it starts infringing on other people's rights, that's when it becomes a problem."
Miller said his daughter was scared and uncomfortable when she learned a transgender student could gain access to the girls' locker room.
"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."
He added, "This is not a civil rights issue."
Giving the student a private bathroom to change in was accommodating enough, said longtime Palatine resident Bill Nix, who added that access to the girls' locker room — even with privacy curtains — goes too far.
"They ought to be ashamed of themselves for even doing that," he said. "Why are we bending over backward for one student? What happened to majority rules?
One high school senior cited her personal modesty and religious beliefs in not wanting the transgender student to be allowed in the locker room.
"I'm not totally comfortable changing in front of girls," she said. "I would be uncomfortable changing in front of someone I believe is a guy."
She did not want her name used and did not speak in the public comment portion of the meeting in part because she was "absolutely terrified of what other people would think of me, if they would call me intolerant." She said many of the students she has spoken to support the transgender student and believe that the parents are driving the discussion.
District parent Jennifer Soloway said she worried that a settlement would be the beginning of a slippery slope that would end with the curtain coming down. A settlement would send the wrong message to the students, she said.
"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?" she asked. "They still have the anatomy of the opposite sex. If they didn't have the anatomy, it would be different." – chicagotribune.com
Do you think restrooms and locker rooms deserve the same policies and solutions when it comes to transgender students?
What is the solution to this public yet private issue?
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