Within a day of the United States Supreme Court's ( SCOTUS' ) Aug. 3 "preserve the status quo" ruling that, for now, has demolished the ability for a transgender boy, Gavin Grimm, to use a Gloucester County, Virginia, high school bathroom in accordance with his authentic gender, officials from the North Chicago suburb of Evanston's Township High School District 202 abruptly canceled an Aug. 4 committee meeting that, according to a report from the Evanston Review, was originally slated "to discuss the district's policy on transgender students."
The report went on to say that District 202 representatives cited "the recent developments in federal court" and that "more time is needed to develop a policy."
Yet The Evanston Review also quoted a May, 2016 statement from District 202 asserting that they had "Worked with the law firm Franczek Radelet, the gender and sex development program at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and the Illinois Safe School Alliance 'to provide staff with the professional development they need to support and accommodate students who identify as transgender'."
SCOTUS' five-to-three ruling in the Grimm case is basically a place-holder while the Gloucester County school board appeals an April 19 federal decision upholding Grimm's protection under the U.S. Department of Education's Title IX, which bans sex discrimination.
District 202's sudden decision to call a halt to its own transgender policy raises the questions as to whether they are waiting to see what the SCOTUS decides, if and when it should take the case. The issue will be then, depending on that ruling, if the district will ensure its policy protects transgender students.
Activist, writer and community advocate Meggan R. Sommerville was one of the individuals who spoke out during a public meeting held at Palatine's District 211 to discuss their own transgender policy earlier in the year after it was challenged by a student and attorneys from the ACLU of Illinois.
"From what I know, District 202 have done their due diligence in talking to experts about trans youth inclusion," she told Windy City Times. "I'm not sure why they would get cold feet this late in the game. People being people, I am sure there are some who are for [a District 202] policy and there are some who are against it. I am sure the ones who are against it have used the SCOTUS ruling to get their way in postponing the meeting and getting out of the whole thing. It's a huge mistake and they are really not thinking about the trans students in their district."
Chicago transgender activist Alexis Martinez went even further.
"Evanston holds itself up as a liberal and progressive community but this is an easy cop-out for them," she said. "This is a way for them to avoid making a decision now or act on it at all. It shouldn't matter what [SCOTUS] says, they should be a leader in liberating their trans students. But, this way, they can avoid any controversy."
While he could not comment on the Evanston decision, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance Executive Director Owen Daniel-McCarter said he believes a great deal is riding on the Nov. 8 general election.
"It will determine who the next Supreme Court justice will be," he said. "I also think one of the critical pieces will be what the next administration will do. We have seen that the Obama administration has been extremely proactive in protecting trans people's rights in education and other civil rights arenas such as the workplace and housing. I think we all feel that the Supreme Court's action in the Grimm case is going to continue to perpetuate the idea that school districts only need to do the bare minimum of what the law allows instead of really creating gender-inclusive education environments."
"With any SCOTUS ruling, there can be a cascading effect on any subject," Sommerville noted. "This one is so polarizing, I can definitely see districts all across the country cooling their heels on protecting trans students. There are so many states trying to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration's directive on being trans-inclusive that now school districts in trans-friendly states like Illinois have ammunition to say, 'We don't have to do this because of the SCOTUS ruling.' It really is scary and it is going to cost the lives of trans students."
"These school districts can take the heat coming from the trans community because we are such a small group but a lot of districts are waiting to see what the Supreme Court rules," Martinez agreed. "In the meantime, you've got transgender students who may have to wait a year, maybe two."
"The thing that feels frustrating to me is that the law is a guide for us about the values of our society and I feel like we have lost track of that in this conversation," Daniel-McCarter said. "When I am in a school district and I am presented with the question of 'What do we have to do according to Title IX or the Human Rights Act of Illinois?' I turn that question around and say that the law is the lowest bar. When we are thinking about inclusive schools, the question is not 'What do we have to do? But 'How do we make our schools the most inclusive?'"
For more information about the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, visit illinoissafeschools.org .