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Photo by Nathan Grimm
Trans woman Amy Jade (right) gestures as a speaker at the Citizens for Child Safety rally at Lincoln Douglas Square in Alton on Saturday discusses the importance of protecting area youths. The rally was in response to a federal directive issued in May regarding transgender bathroom rights in public schools.
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Photo by Nathan Grimm
Supporters of the rally (foreground) and protesters were divided both physically and ideologically during Saturday’s rally.
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Photo by Nathan Grimm
Protesters hold signs in support of transgender rights.
ALTON — A national directive regarding transgender use of public school bathrooms has created local waves in recent weeks.
A group called Citizens for Child Safety has spoken at school board meetings and this past weekend held a rally to speak out against the federal directive, saying it puts children in danger. The group was formed by two area pastors, the Rev. Danny Holliday of Victory Baptist Church in Alton and Ralph Blake of Godfrey’s Harmony Baptist Church.
The group was formed in response to a May 13 letter to schools from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that addresses rights for transgender students. An April 2011 report by the Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA School of Law dedicated to research on sexual orientation and gender identity, estimated that 0.3 percent of Americans, or 700,000 adults, identify as transgender.
The letter clarified that gender identity is protected from discrimination under Title IX, meaning those who identify as transgender are to be afforded the same benefits as all other students. It’s that self-identification that has the group concerned.
“We’re not against transgenders. We’re not trying to protest against anybody. We’re just trying to protest in favor of common sense,” Blake said. “If someone is born a boy, he needs to go to the boys bathroom. We don’t need boys and girls using the same facilities in our public schools. That puts everyone in danger. And according to this mandate, any boy can go to the principal and say, ‘I feel like a girl.’ He’s going to go into the girls shower room. He’s going to go to the girls locker room. He’s going to go to the girls bathroom whenever he wants to. We don’t feel that’s keeping children safe.”
Kara Wolter, board secretary for the Metro Trans Umbrella Group, a St. Louis advocacy group for transgender persons, said that fear is unfounded.
“Trans people have been using the bathroom with everyone else for forever, and there is not a documented case of a trans person, or somebody pretending to be trans, to go into a bathroom to verbally, physically or sexually harass anyone,” Wolter said. “However, in the last two years alone there have been over 200 reported cases of verbal, sexual and physical assault on trans people in bathrooms. So it’s actually quite the opposite of what they’re claiming. It’s not a danger to everyone else. It’s a danger to trans people.”
An emotional issue
Wolter was among roughly two dozen protesters at a Citizens for Child Safety rally in Alton over the weekend.
The protesters were outnumbered by supporters of the group, who were there to hear what Holliday, Blake and others had to say. Many on both sides held signs expressing their positions, with one supporter toting a sign asking “If we allow co-ed restrooms what’s next?” while a protester sported a “Transgender women are women, transgender men are men, it’s that simple” message.
Emotions ran high on both sides, particularly after Holliday said transgender persons have a “mental disorder” and said the founders of the transgender movement were all “pedophiles,” but both supporters and protesters remained peaceful.
“I’ve talked to several young children who are in middle school and high school, and they’re afraid to go to school,” Holliday said. “Because they don’t want to look up and see a male in a bathroom or the shower room. That’s harassment. That’s sexual harassment.”
The group has also taken its message to local school boards to ask them to push back against the national directive. Blake recently addressed the Alton School Board at its July meeting.
Interim Superintendent Mark Cappel read a prepared statement in response to Blake’s plea.
“As you well know, the transgender topic is not an easy issue to address,” the statement read. “The board of education and administration of Alton School District intends to protect the rights of all students to free public education in an environment conducive to learning and free from discrimination. We recognize the directives from the U.S. Department of Education in this area and intend to address this matter on a case by case basis as the situation arises. There is no need to develop a specific policy at this stage and the district will continue to monitor and evaluate this issue.”
Nearly half the states, Illinois not included, have gone to court to fight the directive from President Barack Obama’s administration. In the May 13 letter, the administration threatened that federal funding could possibly be withheld for not complying with Title IX regulations, a threat Blake said is the “club that is held over the head of the school board.”
Locally, Blake said their mission is just getting started. He called Saturday’s rally informational, hoping to get the word out about the issue and his group’s goal.
“Quite honestly, I felt like the school board did not even listen to anything we said,” Blake said. “They already had a pre-prepared statement ahead of time. So, I’m going to go back again and try to actually have a discussion with the school board.”
The group is also encouraging supporters to contact elected officials, including state representatives and local mayors, to make their feelings known. A list of school board meeting dates and times was also included on a handout distributed at the rally.
As far as alternatives to the new directive, Blake said the alternative already exists.
“There’s already anti-bullying laws which protect all the transgenders from being discriminated against. They already have facilities that are single-user bathrooms where they can go without anybody making fun of them or mocking them, that schools have been doing up until now,” Blake said. “This is simply trying to force boys and girls to use the same facility to make everything, in effect, coeducational.”
Wolter said the existing laws aren’t working for transgender students.
“Everything’s not OK for trans youth who are constantly being bullied or being told that they have to go into an incorrect bathroom,” Wolter said. “A trans woman is a woman, and shouldn’t be forced to use a men’s bathroom. It’s doing harm to trans youth. So, it’s the status quo for a lot of people, but not everyone.”