The Illinois State Senate, on March 19, voted to confirm former state Sen. James Meeks as Chair of the State Board of Education.
The nomination had drawn the ire of advocates in the LGBT community who objected to Meeks' opposition to marriage equality, anti-discrimination ordinances and other LGBT rights initiatives, as well as disparaging remarks he has reportedly made about the Asian, Latino and Jewish communities, among other reasons.
But those objections seemed to have little sway over the state's Democratic-controlled Senate, which voted to ratify the nomination 45-1-1. State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, voted "present" while state Sen. William Delgado, D-Chicago, was the single "nay." Both Steans and Delgado reportedly spoke out against the nomination on the Senate floor.
After the confirmation vote, Christopher Clark, counsel and Youth and Schools Program Strategist for Lambda Legal, said in a statement: "With the confirmation of Rev. Meeks as Chair of the Illinois State School Board, Lambda Legal remains deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of LGBTQ students in Illinois. Protecting LGBTQ students in school and ensuring access to a fair and equal education is a critical part of Lambda Legal's mission. In the past, Rev. Meeks made public statements disparaging LGBT people and other minority groups. Such views must not guide or shape the policies of the State Board of Education, and we will be actively engaged with educational leaders in seeking fair and supportive policies for all children, and speaking loudly in protest if LGBTQ and other students are not treated with dignity and respect."
Lambda Legal is part of a coalition of over 35 organizations, led by Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, which opposed the nomination. In a statement, the coalition said, "Despite over 200 witness slips in opposition of Meeks' appointment, the Illinois Senate rushed through the process and has now placed a divisive person with dangerous world views at the head of the state's education board, making all children in Illinois vulnerable to harm.
"We'd like to thank Senator [Heather] Steans and Senator [William] Delgado for speaking against the nomination of Rev. Meeks on the Senate floor and standing for the safety of young people across Illinois."
Gay Liberation Network also advocated against the nomination, urging community members to voice displeasure with their Senators and setting up an online petition that garnered over 1,600 signatures.