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ETHS celebrates ‘civil rights breakthrough’ with new transgender locker room policy

Students+hold+signs+in+support+of+a+new+transgender+policy+at+a+Monday+meeting.+The+policy%2C+which+goes+into+effect+in+the+fall%2C+will+allow+transgender+students+to+use+the+locker+room+of+their+choice.
Students hold signs in support of a new transgender policy at a Monday meeting. The policy, which goes into effect in the fall, will allow transgender students to use the locker room of their choice.

Students hold signs in support of a new transgender policy at a Monday meeting. The policy, which goes into effect in the fall, will allow transgender students to use the locker room of their choice.

Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Students hold signs in support of a new transgender policy at a Monday meeting. The policy, which goes into effect in the fall, will allow transgender students to use the locker room of their choice.

Ryan Wangman, Assistant City Editor

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Evanston Township High School students, board members and community stakeholders lauded a new policy passed Monday that will allow transgender students to use the locker room of their choice.

The policy was passed by the board after months of deliberation and calls from ETHS community members to enact stronger protections for transgender students. Board president Pat Savage-Williams said the policy would go into effect in the fall to give the administration time to develop and understand the change.

School board member Jonathan Baum said most of the credit for the “significant civil rights breakthrough” should go to the students that supported it along the way.

“What people have to understand is that this victory came from the bottom up, not the top down,” Baum said. “It was the courage and empathy and activism of our students — and to some extent their parents — that got us here.”

Previously, transgender students could use the bathroom of their choice but had to request access to a separate locker room. Eric Greenfield, a transgender senior at ETHS, said the locker room — dubbed “locker room three” — was a “closet of a locker room” and was smaller and more secluded than the others.

Greenfield said she felt frustrated having to “pretty much come out” to many members of the ETHS administration to gain locker room access. She added that the policy would help other transgender students feel more comfortable in the classroom and with coming out to their peers.

“It’s the school saying, ‘We recognize that you’re here, and we want to make your experience here at Evanston fixed’,” Greenfield said. “Safety is such an important thing to have for students because if you’re not safe, you’re not going to want to learn.”

But while the policy is cause for celebration among many, it could also open up the district to future legal action. In 2016, for example, more than 50 families sued a Palatine-based school district after it allowed a transgender student to use the bathroom and locker room corresponding with their gender identity.

Doug Holt, who was on the school board at the time of the vote and voted against the new policy, told The Daily he thinks there is legal uncertainty regarding transgender policy. He said privacy has also been a concern raised by community members and during the Palatine lawsuit.

“The other side is, a locker room is not a place for educational opportunities,” Holt said at the meeting. “It’s a place where you have an expectation of privacy.”

Gearah Goldstein, a self-employed advocate for “fully inclusive schools,” said she worked to bring an adult transgender perspective before the board. Goldstein, who is transgender, said she spoke to the school board about fully inclusive policies that were put in place in her own Highland Park community.

Goldstein said the new policy will help build momentum for similar action in the region, and eventually, across the country. She said systemic problems facing the transgender community — homelessness, addiction, abuse and unemployment — can be traced back to whether a student feels affirmed in school.

“By bringing equality and equity to this group of people we are likely in the future going to see less of all those horrible things I just mentioned,” Goldstein said. “(School) is really the place where the biggest change in this country can happen.”

Email: ryanw@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @ryanwangman

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