An anti-LGBTQ flyer recently circulated the halls of Anna-Jonesboro Community High School — with a poll attached asking students if they are comfortable allowing LGBT students to use the restroom with them.
The top of the flyer reads “Anti Queer Association.” Below this, it asks students to vote whether or not they “want queers to go in the bathroom.”
Community activists are condemning the flyer. A statement from the Rainbow Café in Carbondale said they are working with state agencies to help impacted youth at the high school.
“For any youth that may be reading this: please know that you are loved, that you belong and we are here supporting you,” the organization wrote on Facebook.
Superintendent Rob Wright said the administration became aware of the flyer on Wednesday morning.
“It has been investigated and appropriate discipline measures have been taken where warranted,” Wright said. “I cannot give any specific information regarding any individual students or discipline measures taken, but can tell you that this type of harassment is taken seriously by the district and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.”
The Anna-Jonesboro Community High School Board opened up comments to the public at an Oct. 18 meeting after some parents on social media expressed concerns and transphobic sentiments regarding students using the bathroom that best fit their gender.
Requiring a student to use the restroom of their legal sex rather than the one that best fits their gender is illegal and violates Title IX, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In addition, Illinois has already taken steps to ensure there are more inclusive restrooms by passing the Equitable Restrooms Act in 2019. It required all single-occupancy bathrooms to be labeled as gender neutral beginning in 2020.
Tara Bell, facilitator of Social Action for Southern Illinois, said this legislation and policy has been developed to protect the safety and mental health of transgender students.
She said based on a recent survey by the Trevor Project, 52% of all transgender and nonbinary young people in the U.S. seriously contemplated killing themselves in 2020.
“When gender is affirmed by the adults and institutions in these young people’s lives, these rates drop dramatically," she said.
Yet uninformed parents continue to see basic needs such as restroom access as “unsafe” for other students, Bell said.
“In reality, there have been no documented instances of violence, assault or bullying by transgender individuals in restrooms, either in schools or other public places,” Bell said. “This concept is a myth. But imagine what a student goes through daily; being forced to access a restroom or locker room based on their gender assigned at birth as opposed to the gender of their true self sets off a spiral of issues. The student will avoid eating or drinking all day, making participation and focus difficult. Overall grades can begin to slip. Students will sit out of Physical Education classes, facing penalties for nonparticipation.”
Over half of transgender students in the U.S. are required to use the restroom of their legal sex rather than the one they feel most comfortable using, according to statistics from GLSEN, an anti-discrimination educational organization.
This can lead to damaging psychological impacts and can cause students to avoid the restroom altogether and risk health complications, according to GLSEN.
More than half of transgender male teens who participated in a 2018 survey by the American Academy of Pediatrics reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, while 29.9 percent of transgender female teens said they attempted suicide and among non-binary youth, 41.8 percent of respondents stated that they had attempted suicide.
A 2018 study by the Journal of Adolescent Health found there are 71% fewer symptoms of severe depression, a 34% drop in reported suicidal thoughts and a 65% decrease in suicide attempts when teens feel safe enough to use their true names and pronouns and are affirmed in their identity.
While community advocates see AJCHS following the law by letting students use the bathroom of their choice as a positive thing, others in the community do not.
Jacki Dent, a parent of students at the school, posted a video to Facebook and said she was “about ready to pull the kids out of school” because of this.
Others in the comment section agreed with her reaction.
Bell said bullying minors in social media forums and in schools is “unacceptable” — and that support and resources are available at the Rainbow Café and other LGBTQ support and advocacy groups.
Rainbow Café put out a call for action asking community members to call Wright regarding the flyers to demand an end to the harassment.
Carrie Vine, vice chair of the Rainbow Café, said she believes bathroom use was mostly OK with students, but when community members learned of it, they began to speak badly of it.
Vine said activists in the community are working to support the youth at the school.
The Illinois Department of Human Rights, Illinois Safe Schools, Social Action for Southern Illinois and Rainbow Café are all working together on this issue, Vine said.
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Kallie Cox is a general assignments reporter for The Southern with interests in political science, crime and courts, immigration, and social justice. Kallie is a SIU student and joined the newsroom staff in 2021. email@example.com
An anti-LGBTQ flyer recently circulated the halls of Anna-Jonesboro Community High School — with a poll attached asking students if they are comfortable allowing LGBT students to use the restroom with them. Community activists are condemning the flyer. “For any youth that may be reading this: please know that you are loved, that you belong and we are here supporting you,” the Rainbow Cafe in Carbondale wrote on Facebook in response to the controversy.