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Illinois school district puts transgender policy committee on hold

By Tony Merevick| Chicago Phoenix
Thursday, December 13, 2012
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The future of an Ad Hoc committee charged with creating protective policy for East Aurora School District transgender students is in question after its chairman declined to schedule further meetings due to intense opposition from local religious groups and residents.

The brouhaha over the creation of a policy that would create protections for transgender and gender nonconforming students in District 131 continued Nov. 30, when over 120 conservative and religious protesters picketed the committee’s second meeting, raising safety concerns and much uncertainty over the group’s ability to work together.

Committee Chairman Anita Lewis, who also serves on the district’s school board, concluded the at-capacity meeting without determining a future gathering date over safety concerns for some members of the committee who are transgender, and said she will take her concerns to the full school board for further review.

Because of safety concerns, the Department of Justice ordered a police presence at the meeting, according to District 131 Director of Communications Clayton Muhammad.

“We did due diligence to make sure there was a police presence in the building,” Muhammad said, adding that about 25 people spoke before the committee, most of them in opposition of creating a new policy.

Pro-transgender speakers were hissed at, booed and shouted down by the protesters, according to sources in the room.

“Ms. Lewis, the chairman of the committee — she took that notion of insecurity, that people were not feeling secure and that we had to bring in the police department — and she will take information from both meetings to the board of education for further review,” he said. “[The school board] will make a decision.”

Lewis also expressed concerns over the committee’s ability to work together, given that of its 22 members, some simply oppose creating a transgender protections policy. The development comes after the committee suggested at its first meeting that the policy they’re working on could potentially change the country.

The next school board meeting is set for 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17 at the McKnight Service Center at 417 Fifth St. in Aurora. Advocates on both sides of the issue are looking to Monday’s meeting for answers, including those who sit on the Ad Hoc committee. The school board will release the upcoming meeting’s agenda on Thursday.

Muhammad said that officials have been overwhelmed by the international attention on the district and the sheer volume of correspondence they’ve received over the last two months.

Local religious leaders and representatives from the Illinois Family Institute, an organization branded as an “anti-gay hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, have mounted intense opposition against any form of protections for transgender students since the school board approved a groundbreaking policy Oct. 15. Because of the deluge of criticism from those groups, the board rescinded that policy just four days later.

The district later created the Ad Hoc committee in hopes of raising community support.

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