On Friday, while the rest of the country was going purple in support of LGBT young people on Spirit Day, the school board in East Aurora, Illinois was sending the exact opposite message to transgender students.
The board for the East Aurora School District 131decided on Friday to take away a new anti-discrimination policy that protected transgender students, just days after approving it. The board had passed the measure unanimously on October 15. The message sent to transgender students: "your well-being is not our concern." Or worse, "you are not welcome here."
Abbe Land, Executive Director and CEO of The Trevor Project said in a statement that rescinding the protections "would send a hurtful, stigmatizing message to all students, inflicting humiliation and empowering bullying. This is not the message we should be sending to our young people.”
(East Aurora School Board, image via ThinkProgress)
The board members caved to pressure put on it by the Illinois Family Institute, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In its reaction to the October 15th vote, which protected transgender students, IFI said:
"This feckless school board has made a decision to accommodate, not the needs of gender-confused teens, but their disordered desires and the desires of gender/sexuality anarchists who exploit public education for their perverse ends.”
It's one thing for a hate group to call transgender young people "confused," "disordered," "anarchists" and "perverse." It's quite another for a school board to see that statement and give it a seal of approval. And it's not clear whether the board would have caved to this pressure, had the community been made aware of exactly who the Illinois Family Institute is. So where was the media during all this? Not doing its job.
On October 17th, the Chicago Sun-Times network only provided the Illinois Family Institute’s own description of itself:
IFI tags itself as an “independent non-profit ministry dedicated to upholding and re-affirming marriage, family, life and liberty in Illinois.”
Chicago’s ABC 7 stated that the IFI “strongly opposed the district's new policy” but failed to provide any more information about the group, and CBS2 did at least call the group “conservative” but stopped there.
“Conservative” doesn’t even begin to cover the anti-LGBT hate promoted by the Illinois Family Institute and its parent organization, the American Family Association - which has also been designated as a hate group by SPLC.
AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer is even more extreme, having claimed: "Homosexuality gave us Adolf Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews." Fischer also says that gay people are the single greatest modern threat to freedom of religion and conscience.”
This context is crucial to this discussion, and Chicago’s media completely failed to deliver it to its audience. Anyone who had not come into contact with the IFI before this story would have no idea that they were an extreme anti-LGBT organization that has been labeled a hate group, believes being gay is the same as incest, and is affiliated with an organization that believes the Nazis were gay.
GLAAD is working with advocates in Illinois and around the country on this story, and is reaching out to Chicago media to to ask the media to bring IFI's anti-LGBT history to light, and to urge a thorough investigation of how this decision was reached.