CHICAGO — A school district in Chicago has voted to allow a male student who identifies as female to use the girls’ locker room in light of an ultimatum issued by the Obama administration.
As previously reported, an unidentified high school student within Township High School District 211 requested to use the girls’ locker room nearly two years ago as he had been identifying as female.
But the district declined, citing the privacy concerns of the female students. It in turn offered a private location to change, but the student rejected the accommodation. He then contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a federal complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.
“They are telling a student that she can’t be with her friends at school but has to be relegated to a separate place to dress. That’s just a horrible thing to do,” John Knight, director of ACLU Illinois’ LGBT program, told the Daily Herald.
The Department of Education responded by opining that the district had to permit the student to use the locker room of his choice due to Title IX requirements. The two sides continued in talks for a number of months, but the district held firm on requiring privacy for female students while offering various options for the transgender student, which were refused.
It said that it desired to “to protect the privacy rights of all students when changing clothes or showering before or after physical education and after-school activities, while also providing accommodations necessary to meet the unique needs of individual students.”
The Department of Education recommended that the district install privacy curtains in the changing area so that he could not see other students changing and female students could not see him. The district installed the curtains, but as negotiations remained impasse, the department gave district officials 30 days to settle the matter under threat of penalty, including the possibility of the loss of $6 million in federal funding.
Last Thursday, despite strong disagreement from many parents, district officials voted 5-2 to allow the male student to change in the curtained area of the girl’s locker room.
“Consistent with our stated position throughout this matter, if the transgender student seeks access to the locker room, the student will not be granted unrestricted access and will utilize a private changing station whenever changing clothes or showering,” Superintendent Daniel Cates said in a statement.
By Monday, the district considered rescinding the settlement, but again weighed the matter following further talks with members of the Obama administration followed by two hours of heated public comment, and decided to go through with the agreement.
“I commend the Board of Education of Township High School District 211 for taking steps necessary to protect civil rights as well as student privacy,” Catherine Lhamon, Education Department assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement. “We are grateful that the board and superintendent chose to come into full compliance with our nation’s civil rights laws. And, we look forward to partnering with the district to assure that the terms of this agreement are fully and effectively implemented.”
An estimated 600 people attended Monday’s meeting, according to the Chicago Tribune. Students have had mixed feelings about the matter.
“I feel that discrimination of any kind within the LGBT community opens doors to discrimination outside of this particular issue,” one student told the publication.
“My peers and I are already uncomfortable about our growing and changing bodies, and allowing this person will only further contribute to our embarrassment and to our hurt of confidence and our self-esteem,” another stated.
According to the Department of Education, the student already has “unlimited access to all girls’ restrooms in the school” and is allowed to participate in girls’ athletics.