On October 15, the district unanimously passed an inclusive school district policy that would protect students based on their gender identity and expression.
The vote prompted anti-transgender invective from the Illinois Family Institute, an extreme anti-LGBT organisation that has been labeled a hate group that believes being gay is the same as incest. Under pressure, the district, located in the Chicago suburb of Aurora, met again on October 19 and took away the new anti-discrimination policy.
Unfortunately, because the media failed to paint a complete picture of what the Illinois Family Institute is, the school board took these protections away from transgender students and may return to a climate of bullying and harassment.
“Equality Illinois believes the need to expose the Illinois Family Institute and its national affiliate the American Family Association is gravely important,” said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, the statewide LGBT advocacy group. “The American Family Association’s and the Illinois Family Institute’s comparison of LGBT people to Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan is a desperate attempt to make their point and further demean and marginalise our children” Cherkasov said.
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 organisation, the American Family Association. Both organizations have been designated as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
AFA spokesman 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.”
The media now has the responsibility to give this context to its audience, so that they have a complete understanding of why these important protections were taken away from already marginalised students.
Parents, educators and community members who were not aware of the Illinois Family Institute might have believed them to be a credible organisation, with positions based on what experts agree is or isn’t beneficial to children and families. This could not be any further from the case.
When reporting on this story, the media has the responsibility to paint a complete picture of what the Illinois Family Institute is.
Journalists reporting this story should also note the following national figures:
- 56.9% of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from teachers or other school staff.
- 43.9% of students felt unsafe in schools because of their gender expression.
- Students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression had lower grade point averages than students who were less often harassed (2.9 vs. 3.2).
- Six in ten (59.5%) students in schools with comprehensive policies heard homophobic remarks (e.g., “faggot” or “dyke”) often or frequently, compared to almost three quarters of students in schools with generic, non-enumerated policies (73.3%) or no policy whatsoever (73.8%).
*Source: Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) 2011 National School Climate Survey