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Governor’s new task force to study discrimination against transgender students

‘Under this executive order, ignorance is no longer an excuse of bigotry,’ the governor, surrounded by dozens of students, said Sunday.

Governor J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot with executive order signed Sunday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, shown with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, signed an executive order Sunday to examine and address school policies that affect transgender students.
David Struett/Sun-Times

Hours before the Pride Parade set off in Chicago, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order to address hurtful treatment of transgender students in Illinois schools.

The new “Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force” will examine school rules and suggest better policies for school dress codes, restroom accessibility and the use of pronouns, Pritzker said Sunday morning at the signing of the order creating the task force.

“Under this executive order, ignorance is no longer an excuse of bigotry,” Pritzker said at Lake View High School, surrounded by dozens of students and supporters.

The task force’s policy recommendations will be published statewide by the Illinois Board of Education, though schools will not be obligated to implement those recommendations.

“The vast majority [of trans students] report they experience discrimination in their schools or classrooms,” Pritzker said Sunday before signing the order at Lake View High School, 4015 N. Ashland Ave.

“Left without adequate protections, they avoid school functions, their extracurriculars, their bathrooms, locker rooms, sometimes even skipping out on the entire school day itself,” the governor added.

“They feel unsafe in the very institutions that are meant to foster their curiosities, their passions, their beliefs,” Pritzker said. “That’s not who we are in Illinois. It’s unacceptable and it ends now.”

A 2017 study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network found 80% of transgender students reported feeling unsafe at school, and over 70% of transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming students reported experiencing discriminatory policies at school, according to a 2017 study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

School policies that exclude transgender students can do more than harm students’ school performance and mental health, said Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton who also attended the signing.

“We know that when young people — especially LGBTQIA young people of color — are not in school, they are far more likely to enter the school-to-prison pipeline,” Stratton said.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the task force “a first step toward codifying tolerance and respect in all of our schools across the state.”

The task force will have 25 members — students, parents, teachers and other professionals — appointed by the governor; its recommendations are due by Jan. 1, 2020.

One student at the signing was overcome with emotion, saying the event made them feel “so supportive and seen.”

“I’m really happy my city sees me for who I am,” said V Rezac, an incoming sophomore at Lane Tech, said.

Afterward, Pritzker addressed his recent meeting with mayor, in which Lightfoot reportedly was to suggest that the state take over the city’s pension funds.

“We had a terrific meeting,” Pritzker said. “We continue to have a good dialogue. And as I’ve said, we want to be as helpful as we can in the process. We have challenges in our pension systems across the state, and we continue to talk about how I can be helpful in the state level and how the legislature can be helpful to all the pension systems across the state.”

Lightfoot denied it was a “pension meeting” but it was a “very good meeting,” she said.

“This is about deepening relationships, and it was a very good conversation.”