Illinois governor signs executive order to help trans students feel safer at school

On the final day of Pride Month, Gov. Jay Pritzker signed the order.

Then-Democratic candidate for Illinois Governor Jay Robert "J. B." Pritzker greets guests before a speech by former President Barack Obama at the University of Illinois on September 7, 2018 in Urbana, Illinois. (PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images)
Then-Democratic candidate for Illinois Governor Jay Robert "J. B." Pritzker greets guests before a speech by former President Barack Obama at the University of Illinois on September 7, 2018 in Urbana, Illinois. (PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images)

Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker (D) signed an executive order on Sunday aimed at protecting transgender students from discrimination and harassment. The governor signed the order on the last day of Pride Month and on the same day as Chicago’s Pride Parade.

The executive order creates a 25-member task force to develop policy recommendations that educate school officials on issues affecting transgender students, such as dress codes, using the correct pronouns, bathroom access, and name changes. This “Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force” will comprise students, parents, teachers, medical professionals, and representatives from community-based organizations.  Those recommendations will be published by the Illinois Board of Education, but schools will not be required to implement them, according to the Times. The task force is supposed to make its recommendations by January 1, 2020.

In a statement to ThinkProgress, Brenda Barron, director of public policy at the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), said, “We applaud Governor Pritzker’s executive order, which reflects the need to protect trans students who are especially vulnerable to harassment, discrimination and violence at school, and which is an important step in implementing the existing laws that protect LGBTQ students in Illinois.”

“We look forward to the recommendations of the commission, as well as the resources and funding that are allocated moving forward in this effort to make schools safer for all students,” Barron added.


A 2017 GLSEN school climate survey found that 34.8% of LGBTQ students said they missed at least one day of school in the past month due to feeling unsafe and that 22.8% were harassed based on gender. Forty-six percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming students had been required to use a bathroom that did not correspond with their gender and 42.1% were prevented from using their correct name or pronoun.

Looking only at Illinois students, the GLSEN survey found that 61% of LGBTQ students said they faced verbal harassment based on gender expression and 52% experienced such harassment based on gender. Twenty-two percent and 20% percent of LGBTQ students said they were physically harassed based on gender expression and gender, respectively.

Pritzker tweeted on Sunday that his executive order is designed to “disrupt the patterns of discrimination in our classrooms and ensure our school across the state are affirming and inclusive for transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming students.”


“Visibility and acceptance for non-cisgender people are on the rise, but so are attacks of hate, particularly against black trans women,” he added.

At least 11 black trans women have been murdered in 2019. Awareness of these deaths reached the first Democratic presidential debate stage last week, when Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) mentioned “African American trans Americans and the incredibly high rates of murder right now.” Booker also mentioned that LGBTQ students often feel unsafe going to school due to fear of harassment.

The executive order represents a positive change on the state level as the Trump administration continues to take steps on the federal level to undermine LGBTQ rights, and transgender people’s health and safety in particular. The Trump administration has rolled back policies aimed at protecting trans students from discrimination at school and announced a revision to the nondiscrimination section of Obamacare that prevented discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, and sex. The Obama administration included discrimination against transgender people in that policy, but Trump’s Department Health and Human Services department said it no longer interprets the provision as including trans people. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also recently announced a new rule that would allow federally funded homeless shelters to refuse to serve transgender people.

There have been other positive developments for LGBTQ people on the state level. On Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) signed legislation banning what is often referred to as the gay or trans panic defense in cases of violence. This defense essentially allows people to justify violence and even murder against someone by saying they were responding to a sexual orientation or someone being transgender. The defense was used after the killings of Matthew Shepard, a gay student, in 1998, and Islan Nettles, a transgender woman, in 2013. New York became the sixth state to ban these defenses.

In June, Colorado passed a ban against conversion therapy for minors, a harmful practice that tells people they need to change their sexual orientation or gender. Utah’s legislature failed to pass a conversion therapy ban earlier this year, but the governor is now directing the Psychologist Licensing Board to draft rules that regulate it in the state. Eighteen states, including Colorado, and the District of Columbia ban conversion therapy for minors.

More states have also moved toward providing a nonbinary option for gender on driver’s licenses. Last week, Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) signed a bill into law that allows Hawaii residents to choose “X” on their forms for driver’s licenses and state IDs. Those who do will not have to provide documentation to change their gender designation on forms.