International Transgender Day of Visibility occurs amid states passing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation


Will Long

Darius Parker, a Queer, Black scholar, activist, poet and performer, read some of their work at the Queer Joy event on Thursday, April 6 in Munroe Hall Room 124.

Chicagoans gathered at Grant Park on March 31 in support of the transgender and nonbinary community for International Trangender Day of Visibility.

This day was celebrated despite the increase of anti-trans legislation and rhetoric throughout the country. Currently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is tracking 452 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the U.S. Illinois is one of only nine states not passing any anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

In 2006, Illinois passed the Illinois Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality or gender-related identity, whether or not traditionally associated with the person’s designated sex at birth.” 

Since this law was passed, Illinois has some of the broadest protections for the LGBTQ+ community, said Edwin Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for ACLU Illinois.

“There’s never been an issue, for example, in Illinois in terms of youth participation in sports if they’re transgender,” said Yohnka.

Yohnka said one of the most pertinent issues facing the trans community in Illinois is insurance companies not paying for trans healthcare.

“We’ve seen lawsuits around access to healthcare, where there have been medications where insurance policies will cover it for a prescribed use that isn’t related to transition care, but has then been denied for transition care. That type of issue [the ACLU] has been able to push back at the state level,” he said. 

This law has not stopped attempts to discriminate against people in the LGBTQ+ community in Illinois. 

Hazel Kay, a freshman who identifies as nonbinary, said that Chicago is a welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community. Kay believes that misinformation about the trans community is one of the biggest issues the trans and LGBTQ+ community faces. 

“I had an uncle who lived in a more rural suburb area, and he was very homophobic. Even that was uncomfortable, but he wasn’t particularly violent. The biggest issue is the rhetoric because that’s where a lot of the violence starts,” said Kay. 

High School District 211, which serves students in suburban Chicagoland, was sued twice for discriminating against transgender students. In 2013, the ACLU represented a student who was denied access to the girl’s locker room, and instead, had to change in a different area. District 211 was ruled to have violated Title IX, and had to end discriminatory practices. The ACLU sued the district again in 2017 for the same practices.

Members of the community were invited to perform any works of their own or to read and present anything that sparked joy. (Will Long)

Backlash came swiftly, and in 2016 a group called Students and Parents for Privacy sued, attempting to reverse the order, to keep transgender students separate. In April 2019, the group dismissed the lawsuit. 

“Obviously [the backlash] is part of a nationwide trend, we’ve seen anyone dipping their toe into the news has seen over the last few months the same sort of arguments and the same sort of behaviors being displayed at school boards everywhere,” said Kim Cavill, a candidate for the District 211 board, and an incumbent since 2019. 

Throughout the District 211 school board election, citizens groups such as Citizens 4 Kids Education (C4KE), Awake Illinois, and Parents for Privacy are vocalizing their opposition to the teaching of trans,  nonbinary and LBGTQ+ material on their Facebook pages and websites.

C4KE ran ads against Cavill, who is also a former sex-ed expert and instructor, along with three other candidates. They also sent out flyers advocating against district policies and decisions protecting trans and LGBTQ+ students. 

“There’s always a backlash to any sort of progress, and [since] securing the right to marry, we’re still undergoing the backlash, and probably will be for some time,” said Cavill. “ When you look at cultural trends and the incredibly rapid pace [in which attitudes have changed] toward [the LGBTQ+ community] since Obergefell [was decided], it doesn’t really work anymore as an electoral strategy. You need a new villain.”

According to Cavill, political groups are using anti-trans rhetoric to further their political agenda. She said this is because the trans and nonbinary community is much smaller in number than the LGBTQ+ community.

Backlash against the trans community has been targeted against a suburban bakery, according to reporting done by NBC Chicago. Uprising Bakery and Cafe in Lake in the Hills, became a welcoming space for the LGBTQ+ community by hosting a drag brunch for families, and most recently, by hosting a party for Trans Day of Visibility. 

According to Corinna Sac, the owner of Uprising Bakery and Cafe, local community backlash has increased. 

“They’re calling the health department on us, now they’re going after us saying that we’re laundering money, they’re calling the IRS on us, they are calling the Department of Labor and saying that we’re not paying our employees or that we’re paying them under the table,” said Sac.

Sac believes that one of the biggest issues facing the trans community currently is disinformation. 

“We’re in a very conservative area, so [disinformation] is very, very prominent here, and that’s why [transphobia] is taking such a hold out here. There is so much disinformation being spread about trans individuals, about LGBTQ in general, but really targeting [the trans community]. Not just adult trans [people], but specifically minor LGBTQ [people],” Sac said. 

To Yohnka, involvement on a local level in communities is important.

“What we know in Illinois, and especially in the suburbs, is that yes, there are pockets of virulent anti-trans feelings and actions,” Yohnka said. “They are not the majority. I think the fact is because we have the law on our side, if we also have the right amount of citizen participation, I think we’re going to be able to push back against these kinds of concerns.”