ETHS board to consider allowing students to choose locker room based on gender


(David Fishman/Daily Senior Staffer)

Community members attend a District 202 School Board Policy Committee meeting Thursday. The committee decided at the meeting to draft new language that would allow transgender students to use the locker room that aligns with their gender.

David Fishman, Assistant City Editor

The District 202 Board will consider a policy next month that would allow transgender students to use locker rooms that align with their gender.

On Thursday, the Board Policy Committee addressed the issue for the first time, drawing an unusually large crowd of more than 60 people. The committee — joined by a few board members, Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and Principal Marcus Campbell — decided to draft new language that would better support its gender discrimination policy. That language will be presented to the full board at its meeting next month.

As of now, the district has a policy to prevent gender discrimination and a set of practices used to carry out that policy. Based on those practices, transgender students at Evanston Township High School may use the bathroom of their choice, but must request access to a separate locker room.

“We are at the critical decision point,” said Gretchen Livingston, an ETHS board member who sits on the Policy Committee. “I believe our existing policy allows for transgender students to use the locker room of their gender identity, but we are not letting that happen.”

Livingston, who is running for re-election, expressed frustration over the board’s failure to address the issue. Last month, she told The Daily she had made two written requests to discuss the gender policy. Though an official policy had been drafted in fall 2015, the board cancelled a meeting to discuss the issue last summer, citing legal advice.

Jennifer Smith, an attorney who represents the district, said ETHS had delayed action because of a “rapidly evolving” legal landscape and an impending Supreme Court decision. But after the court sent the case back to the appeals court earlier this month, she said the issue would not likely be resolved any time soon.

In addition, President Donald Trump’s administration last month revoked federal guidelines allowing transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.

“The law has been rapidly evolving literally month to month,” Smith said at Thursday’s meeting. “There are risks on all sides. … I very much think that with risks on all sides (the district is) basically free to go forward.”

During the public comment period, about 10 ETHS students and community members gave impassioned speeches in support of a new policy. Biz Lindsay-Ryan, an Evanston equity consultant, said the district should do more to support transgender students given the current political climate.

“Many gender expansive kids are bullied regularly, they often feel unsafe at school and have an incredibly high dropout rate,” she said. “The psychological impact of having a policy that unequivocally stands up for you goes a long way. It affirms their identity and their right to exist.”

Lindsay-Ryan added that a separate locker room relegates many students to “isolation.”

Grey Miller, an ETHS freshman who is transgender, said using the separate locker room makes him feel different. He commended the district for its current policies, but implored it to “affirm our humanity” by extending them to locker rooms.

“I often think of a future where having a third locker room is going to be like horrendous,” Miller said. “Bathrooms and locker rooms have been a civil rights issue for pretty much every marginalized group of people and it’s important that ETHS is on the right side of history.”

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