In A Suburban Chicago School Board Race, Transgender Rights Won

A suburban Chicago school board race this spring was seen as a referendum on transgender rights. According to Tuesday’s unofficial election results, transgender rights won.

Over a year ago, the school board for Township High School District 211 in the Palatine-Schaumburg area northwest of Chicago approved a settlement with the U.S. Department of Education to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

The settlement was approved after the school initially denied a transgender girl’s request to use the girls’ locker room. She filed a complaint and the Department of Education ruled that the district had violated Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits schools from discriminating on the basis of sex or gender identity and requires them to offer all students equal access to school facilities.

The settlement was met with mixed reactions in the community. Represented by the Religious Right-affiliated legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, a group of community members calling themselves “Students and Parents for Privacy” last May filed a federal lawsuit against District 211 and the education department to challenge the policy.

The debate boiled over into election season this spring. There were three open seats on the seven-member board, and opponents of the trans policy fielded candidates for each one. Had they won, they could have broken up the five-member bloc that approved the settlement.

What normally would have been a relatively quiet school board race in Illinois’ largest high school district drew national attention and an unusual influx of campaign money.

“GOP megadonor Richard Uihlein, a Wisconsin shipping magnate, gave $3,000 to a political action committee backing the conservative candidates – a considerable sum for an election in which some candidates spend nothing,” The Washington Post reported.

“On the other side, a Washington-based group, Trans United Fund, has mounted a last-minute effort to help a group of parents who support the pro-transgender policy organize door-knocking campaigns and direct mailers,” the paper continued.

Voters in a Chicago suburb elected pro-transgender rights school board members.

In the end, two incumbents who approved District 211’s transgender policy – Anna Klimkowicz and Robert J. LeFevre Jr. – were re-elected and Edward M. Yung, a former school board member who said he supported the district’s policy as long as all students had access to privacy, also was elected.

LeFevre told the Post he did not regret approving the settlement. He said installing curtains in the locker rooms for any student who wanted privacy was the best solution.

“I support treating human beings like human beings,” LeFevre said. “I would never be disappointed if I lost because of my vote.”

Klimkowicz said the policy is working, with no reports of violations or bullying.

The transgender student whose complaint led to District 211’s more inclusive policy told The Post she would have felt “horrible” if the district’s policy changed.

“Young people, they don’t care,” said the student, who asked to be referred to as Student A, as she is described in court papers. “I use the girl’s bathroom and no one makes an issue of it.”

While Tuesday’s election results are a win for transgender rights in suburban Chicago, the fight is far from over there or across the nation.

Although a federal judge in October upheld District 211’s policy on a preliminary basis, the case, Students and Parents for Privacy v. U.S. Department of Education, is ongoing.

Several other related lawsuits are filtering through the court system. The U.S. Supreme Court nearly heard its first transgender rights case last month but kicked Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. back to a lower court for more deliberation after the Trump administration revoked federal guidance that informed schools they had to allow transgender students access to facilities consistent with their gender identities to comply with Title IX.

Americans United and our allies had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case in support of Gavin Grimm, the transgender Virginia high school student who sued Gloucester County schools after the board denied him access to the boys’ restrooms. We argue that government can’t use religious or moral disapproval of transgender people to justify discrimination.

Meanwhile, ADF has filed two other lawsuits challenging school districts’ policies that support transgender students and is pushing legislation in several states that would limit the access of transgender people to public restrooms.

Through our Protect Thy Neighbor project, AU will continue to fight against those who would use religion as justification to harm others.