Central Illinois students wear anti-trans shirts, high school does nothing

Students wore t-shirts that read “There are only to genders” to school this month.
Five students wore t-shirts that read “There are only two genders” at Clinton High School this month. Photo provided

CLINTON – Families in Clinton have raised concerns after five students wore anti-transgender t-shirts to school without any actions by the high school.

A photo showed the students wearing black t-shirts with the words “There are only two genders” earlier in May. However, the school took no action even after parents contacted the district.

Erin and her family were among those who contacted the school and posted about it on social media. We’re not using their last name to protect their privacy.

Erin and her husband emailed the Clinton High School principal, they pointed out that the shirts violated the school’s own handbook. Specifically:

  • Articles of wearing apparel displaying indecent patches, writing, pictures, or obscene/ suggestive slogans are prohibited as well as clothing with liquor or tobacco advertisements.
  • The school also has the authority to prohibit any student dress or grooming which: (1) causes a safety concern; (2) May cause a substantial or material disruption; or (3) Interferes with the school’s positive teaching/learning climate Any student whose appearance is disruptive to the educational process, is unhealthy, unclean, or unsafe will be asked to change their attire or sent home to make the necessary adjustments. Class time missed to correct dress code violations is unexcused.

The response from Assistant Principal Bob Svencer basically said that since the shirts didn’t cause a disruption, they didn’t see a need to react.

“We are committed to keeping each student safe, and respecting the rights of each student within our building.  There is a fine balance between protecting a students’ first amendment right to free speech and the effect those said rights have on others who don’t agree with the message.  The apparel in question has not, to our knowledge, caused a substantial disruption to the educational process within the building.  Therefore, because the apparel worn by those students has not caused a substantial disruption, censorship of the speech would be a violation of the student’s free speech rights even though it may be interpreted as inflammatory to some sections of our student body.  We will continue to keep our students’ safety and welfare at the forefront of our mission to appropriately prepare our students for the future.”

Their son Jaden has been leading the charge.

“He’s been leading the crusade because he’s not trans but a lot of the kids there are afraid to say anything,” Erin said. That and the family moving for unrelated reasons gives them a bit of insulation to any blowback.

“He’s been respectful,” she said. “But he’s been the one to go into the principal and say ‘What’s going on.’”

Steven said that this was the first time the issue has come up. There were no issues or debates locally about trans issues.

“I haven’t seen or heard posts on Facebook,” he said. “This is the first time students have done it at school that I’m aware of.”

The only reason the family can think of that it happened is because of politics.

“I know that politically speaking, some parents have reached out since my post on Facebook and have also complained that Clinton is allowing their student section at games to be Trump flags and American flags,” Erin said. “Those sections have turned from support for the team to support for Trump, I guess.”

Steven said there was a chant of “Let’s go, Brandon” at a volleyball game last year, “which had nothing to do with the game.”

Jaden said he thought the chant was aimed at the entire group of students who do identify as LGBTQ. There are a number of students at the school who do use they/them pronouns.

Erin blacked out the faces of the students when she shared the photo on her social media. And the family doesn’t necessarily want the students punished or for this to follow the students for the rest of their lives.

“For us it’s more the dress code policy wasn’t enforced,” Erin said. “Kids are kids and they’re gonna make mistakes. But they need to be told this was a mistake.”

The family had contacted the school district repeatedly over a week an a half with no response along with social media posts tagging the district. They finally got a response on Friday, May 19, the same day the Illinois Eagle reached out to the district and school board about the issue.

Superintendent Curt Nettles met with them on Monday. Erin said there was a nice discussion, but no commitments for change or plans for an apology.

As of Monday evening, the district has not responded to the Eagle.

The family and other students will also be holding Zoom meetings with Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, an organization that works on LGBTQ protections in schools.

Erin pointed out that the school district promotes its anti-bullying and mental health policies. “They were a pilot program for the Born This Way Foundation.”

The foundation, started by singer Lady Gaga and her mother, has a mission to support the mental health of students.

The family just wants there to be no hate speech.

“While, ideally, I’d hope that they learn there is more than two genders, I’m only fighting for no hate speech, no bullying,” Steven said. “People believe things that aren’t true all the time. And you can’t make them change their beliefs. But in a public school setting where everyone has to be, you have to prevent the bullying and intimidation.”

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