10/19/2012

SPLC warns Illinois school district not to bow to pressure from anti-gay hate group

The Southern Poverty Law Center urged Illinois’ East Aurora School Board today not to bow to pressure from an anti-gay hate group by rescinding a policy protecting transgender and gender nonconforming students and employees from harassment and discrimination.

The SPLC described in a letter to the board the long history of anti-gay bigotry spewed by the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), which is pressuring the board to eliminate the policy. The Carol Stream, Ill., group, which has compared homosexuality to Nazism, has been designated as an anti-gay hate group by the SPLC for demonizing the LGBT community.

The board is set to reconsider its policy at an emergency meeting today.

“The School Board should not allow the IFI’s vitriol to impact its legal and moral duty to ensure that all students have a learning environment free from harassment and abuse,” Alesdair Ittelson, an SPLC attorney, wrote in the letter. “The spread of hate must end at the schoolhouse doors.”

The letter notes that rescinding this policy, which outlines various rights of transgender and gender nonconforming students and employees, would display anti-LGBT animus and could expose the school board to legal liability. It also would provide “strong evidence in any future lawsuit on behalf of students who experience harassment or discrimination within the School District.”

It notes that the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have found that discrimination based on gender nonconformity is a form of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX of the Education Code.

The SPLC recently settled a Title IX lawsuit on behalf of gender nonconforming students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota. The students represented by the SPLC suffered merciless bullying due to their gender expression, largely because the school district did not have adequate policies to prevent this harassment.

The settlement agreement ultimately required the Anoka-Hennepin district to adopt a wide-ranging plan to protect LGBT students from bullying and harassment. The district was also required to pay $270,000 in damages to six students who brought lawsuits. The East Aurora policy will help protect students, avoid costly litigation and provide a safe learning environment for all students.

“Again, we commend you on instituting an inclusive policy and hope you will make the correct decision in this matter – keeping in place a policy to ensure that all people, including those who are transgender or gender variant, may learn, work, and participate in creating a better future for the youth of East Aurora,” Ittelson wrote.