During the public comments section of the May 22 Yorkville Community Unit School District 115 ( Y115 ) board meeting at Yorkville High School, Chad Konow-Muri ( whose husband, Craig Konow-Muri, did not speak that night ) and a number of their supporters addressed an alleged ongoing anti-LGBT situation involving their now seven-year-old daughter.
More than 100 people attended the meeting to support the Konow-Muri family who moved from the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Yorkville in 2014 for a job opportunity with their then four-year-old daughter.
In his remarks to the board, Chad said, "Soon after our move to Yorkville we sought out both a dance studio and martial arts studio to continue her dance and karate lessons. That is when we found BH Martial Arts Studio. After much discussion with BH Martial Arts' manager about our daughter's spirit and previous experience, we decided to take the manager up on her offer to come tour the facility and sign the contract.
"Unfortunately, that tour ended with our daughter being verbally berated and essentially kicked out of the facility when the owner, Master Lee, decided it was appropriate to ask who her parents were. This man, responsible for teaching respect, loyalty, integrity and compassion to children looked into the eyes of our daughter, pointed at her, and stated, 'She is not welcome here, I will not teach her.' Our daughter, an innocent, precocious, joyful four-year-old girl left in tears asking us what she had done."
Speaking with Windy City Times, Craig said that, initially, Master Lee interacted with him and their daughter that day. When she referred to Chad as papa ( their daughter calls Craig daddy ) when he joined them later that's when Master Lee immediately asked Craig who her parents were. When Craig said "we are" referring to Chad and himself that's when Master Lee made the statement that Chad referred to in his statement.
Both Chad and Craig told Windy City Times that until this incident with their daughter they had never encountered any type of overt, blatant and deliberate discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
Soon after the alleged incident with Master Lee the couple learned that BH Martial Arts also had a business relationship with Y115 where they would come to the schools to teach martial arts classes during after-school hours including the school their daughter attended.
"Our family fought for, and succeeded in providing the school district sufficient evidence to lead to the suspension of their ability to utilize tax-funded, school district facilities in order to obtain direct contact with the students within the Y115 district," said Chad at the board meeting. "Now, less than one year later, the suspension has been lifted. Our family has been offered no sincere apology from BH Martial Arts, who now claim that the question of our family structure never came up. In an effort to meet district guidelines regarding discrimination, BH added a single line to their contract and their mission statement. It is important to note that the disclaimer was added only weeks before our recent meeting with the district, while the incident happened nearly three years ago. If BH Martial Arts denies the incident occurred, why the need to change their contract.
"We ask that you send a clear message to local businesses that in order to be permitted to enter our children's schools, they are required to see each child equally, without the filters of color, gender, sexual orientation, economic status or any other difference that the posters in the Yorkville schools instruct our children to embrace and stand up for."
This change to BH Martial Arts contract and mission statement is nowhere to be found online. The couple was given a paper copy of this change during a meeting with the superintendent and COO May 3.
BH Martial Arts website contains a single line, "BH Martial Arts and its students and families are an open unbiased community." There is no mention to non-discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other factor on any of their website pages.
In an email statement to Windy City Times, BH Martial Arts Manager Geri Benning said, "BH Martial Arts is deeply saddened by this entire situation, we stand firm on the fact that we do not discriminate. During this encounter, BH Martial Arts owner Master Lee was completely unaware of the couple's same-sex relationship as he simply thought the family in front of him was a little girl, her father, and her grandfather.
"The misunderstanding occurred when Master Lee questioned why they wanted to remove their child from karate, which her father's explained she was already talented in, and place her into taekwondo. Immediately there were threats and claims of discrimination as I tried to explain that they had misunderstood Master Lee, but they still stormed out. On more than one occasion we have attempted to resolve the situation with the family, but are always met with hostility. District 115 simply placed BH Martial Arts on suspension pending an inquiry into the matter. Once this inquiry was conducted, we were cleared of all wrongdoing and the suspension was lifted."
Y115 Director of Communication Khristine Liptrot told Windy City Times. "As noted in the statement on our website the business was suspended at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year. Due to an internal issue with the facility rental software we were made aware that the business had in fact been allowed to use our schools a few times during the year. The computer situation and internal communications breakdown has been addressed and rectified. However, at this point in time, the suspension on that business has been lifted because they agreed to adhere to specific stipulations that the district demanded."
After doing some research, the Konow-Muris discovered that BH Martial Arts suspension was never enforced. They also dispute what the district said about the number of times BH Martial Arts was able to utilize Y115 school facilities during this past school year. Their research shows BH Martial Arts presence at Y115 schools on seven different dates ( eight events ) from mid-November 2016 to mid-April 2017.
In an email statement to Windy City Times Y115 COO/CSBO Dr. Dean Romano explained that the computer software has a feature that blocks user's ability to submit rental requests and the district suspended BH Martial Arts rental privileges using this feature.
"A text box was added that would alert BH Martial Arts that they could not rent and had to contact me with any questions," said Romano. "We learned recently that the software was not working properly, and was allowing BH Martial Arts to submit rental requests without being blocked. As such, BH Martial Arts was unaware that a suspension existed and as a result they held events this school year at Yorkville Intermediate School and Yorkville Middle School a combined total of five times."
Romano also noted in his email statement that the district has implemented additional procedures to notify every district school and outside groups directly about any restrictions on rental privileges. He said BH Martial Arts, in a signed document, has agreed to a partial suspension from any Y115 schools that Chad and Craig's daughter attends as well written proof to the district within 30 days of successful completion of sensitivity training classes of all employees. The signed document also directs BH Martial Arts to adhere to the provisions of the Illinois Human Rights Act 775 ILCS 5/1-101. Romano noted that all of these provisions must be adhered to before BH Martial Arts is allowed access to Y115 facilities going forward.
"To amplify our message during the board meeting a family friend from Milwaukee, Dr. Linda Timm ( who was unable to attend in person ) came up with the idea for our supporters to hold white carnations during the board meeting," said Craig. "She and two other friends of ours also supplied us with the flowers which symbolize 'pure love' and 'good luck.' We gave each person a slip of paper explaining what the flower means and instructions to leave it behind as a reminder to the Y115 school board that discrimination in our schools is not acceptable."
Among the speakers at the board meeting were Democratic Women of Kendall County President Julie Gondar, Taekwondo instructor from West of the Moon ATA Nick Zorn, Action for a Better Tomorrow Far West Suburbs leader Robyn Vickers, citizen advocate Allison Klein, Fox Valley Pride Co-founder Eric Roberts and friend of the family Frank Vandy. Friend of the family, Carrie Foley completed Chad's statement due to time constraints. No one from the opposition put their names down on the sign-up sheet to speak in favor of BH Martial Arts.
Gondar spoke about the discrimination her two sons faced while attending Y115 schools ( they are currently in their 20s ). She noted that one of her sons is biracial and the administration/teachers knew about the bullying they faced and did nothing about it. Gondar noted that despite the bullying her sons faced in the past she thinks that today if the school district found out a business was discriminating against a student based on the color of their skin it would be banned immediately. She said because it is an LGBTQ issue it is a lot easier to dismiss the issue.
Zorn explained that the Konow-Muri family came to his studio after the alleged incident at BH Martial Arts and he immediately brought her on as a student.
"She was a part of our school for nearly two years," said Zorn. "In that time, she excelled as a student and placed at multiple regional tournaments. I can't understand why any martial arts instructor would not want to have such a talented student at their school. Martial arts are often considered a safe haven for students that struggle with bullying. I have taught students with autism, down's syndrome, ADHD and many other challenges. Not once in my entire 18 years of Taekwondo have I ever turned a student away. What transpired at B.H. Martial Arts eventually came out in conversation with Mr. Muri, and I must admit, I was extremely disappointed.
"I must protest your decision to invite a program back into our schools that openly discriminates against LGBT families. Discrimination goes against everything I've been taught as a martial artist. The very nature of Taekwondo is compassion and unity. I strongly urge you to reconsider your choice. There are plenty of other martial arts programs in the community that would be a better fit."
Vickers said, in reference to BH Martial Arts being allowed back at Y115 schools, "as I tell my kids, just because you can do something, does not mean you should do it ... Do you think that an organization that has demonstrated that they will discriminate against a four-year-old has the best intentions for the children of Yorkville ... Yorkville School District's first responsibility is to the children, not to a business in town."
Klein noted that she grew up with an older brother who has cerebral palsy. She said one of her earliest memories is of the time she had to defend her brother from bullies. Klein explained that letting a business like BH Martial Arts have access to students is inexcusable. She noted that if kids see discrimination coming from adults they will think it is OK for them to do the same thing. She also quoted the Y115 equal educational and extracurricular opportunities policy for students ( 7.10 ) that includes sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination language among other classifications.
Roberts said it is unacceptable that the board reinstated BH Martial Arts access to Y115 schools. He noted that the board members are leaders of the community and need to lead by example and that includes showing every community member they care and hate is never acceptable, especially toward young people.
Vandy noted that his daughter is also a classmate of the Konow-Muris' daughter. He said there is a debate in the country about whether private businesses should have to accept everyone no matter who they are. Vandy explained this is not just about a private business, it is also about public schools. He called on the board to have the same expectations for the businesses that come into the schools that they have for the students and faculty/administrators across Y115 schools.