New study says Illinois DCFS needs to do more for LGBTQ youth

CHICAGO — The ACLU of Illinois said on Tuesday that a new report by Children & Family Research Center shows the state Department of Children and Family Services needs to do more for LGBTQ youth in its care. The study, the 2017 Illinois Child Well-Being Study, was released in June. The study stated that 21.8% of the youth age 12 to 17 who were interviewed reported an LGBTQ sexual orientation. Despite the small size of this group, LGBTQ youths were significantly more likely to score high on self-report measures of negative mood, bodily concerns, and thought problems, more likely to report often or always hating going to school, and more likely to report having been beat up by an adult at home at some point in their life. 

“We have been anxiously awaiting this report as this was the first time questions concerning sexual orientation and gender identity were added to this important statewide survey,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The ACLU of Illinois worked hard to ensure these questions were included in order to more fully understand the experiences and needs of LGBTQ+ youth in state care.”

Heidi Dalenberg joins ACLU of Illinois as director of Institutional Reform Project

CHICAGO — The ACLU of Illinois announced Monday that Heidi Dalenburg joined the organization as the new director of the Institutional Reform Project. Dalenberg, who most recently was a partner at Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP, assumed the role on July 1. In her new role, she will lead the ACLU’s work aimed at making systemic reforms to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. She has participated in these efforts for more than two decades as a cooperating counsel while in private practice.  “This is an incredible opportunity,” said Dalenberg in the press release.

ACLU of Illinois legal director to retire

CHICAGO — The legal director of the ACLU of Illinois announced last week that he is retiring. In a press release, the ACLU said that Benjamin Wolf  announced his upcoming retirement as the legal director of the ACLU of Illinois. Wolf joined the organization in 1984 and has served as legal director since 2015. He will remain in his current position until a successor is identified and retained.  

“It is difficult to imagine finding more satisfaction in a legal career than I experienced at the ACLU,” added Wolf in making his announcement.

ACLU of Illinois reacts to acquittal of three CPD Officers in Laquan McDonald conspiracy trial

CHICAGO — The ACLU of Illinois has reacted to the acquittal of three Chicago police officers accused of covering up for Jason Van Dyke for the murder of Laquan McDonald. Their statement from Karen Sheley, Director, Police Practices Project, ACLU of Illinois:
“Today’s acquittals are a painful reminder of the complete lack of structural accountability for police officers in Chicago. The judge’s findings will allow these three officers to escape criminal consequences for their part in covering up the murder of Laquan McDonald. The court’s decision does nothing to exonerate a police department so rotten that a teenager can be murdered—on video—by one of its officers and no one in the chain-in-command lifted a finger to do anything about it. Until we change the structures that govern Chicago police officers, they will feel they have nothing to lose by lying and everything to lose if they tell the truth.

New ACLU report shows continued racial disparities in Illinois traffic stops

New website allows public to view traffic stop & search rates for law enforcement agencies across Illinois
CHICAGO — A new report from the ACLU of Illinois confirms that racial disparities persist in Illinois traffic stops. Black and Latinx drivers are searched at higher rates than white drivers across the state. The report examines several years of data collected by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) as part of the Illinois Traffic and Pedestrian Stop Statistical Study Act, first championed by then-State Senator Barack Obama. The release of the ACLU report coincides with the launch of a new website: illinoistrafficstops.com. Data scientists Mollie Pettit and Chris Kucharczyk, and front-end engineer Alex Alleavitch worked with the ACLU of Illinois to evaluate all available IDOT data from 2017 and create a data visualization tool that allows people to search and view traffic stop data for each law enforcement agency in Illinois.

ACLU of Illinois: School officials must not limit ability of students to discuss sexual orientation

CHICAGO — Discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity are appropriate topics for middle school students, and schools should not limit such discussions in the lunchroom or hallways, or during time when students are not receiving instruction. This is the central point of a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois to the leaders of Germantown Hills Middle School. School officials recently authored a letter to parents of students at the middle school, noting that some students have been discussing issues surround sexual orientation, and suggesting that students would need permission in order to discuss such matters. The school district’s letter further claimed that “students do not have the right to dictate when and where they will discuss their sexual orientation or identity.” The ACLU argues that such a limitation on student discussion of these issues is a violation of the First Amendment and state non-discrimination laws. The ACLU letter applauds the school’s commitment to a learning environment free from harassment and bullying, but at the same time suggests that public expressions of sexual orientation and gender identity are not too “disruptive” for school.

Transgender bus driver’s transition to be covered by CTA health insurance

CHICAGO — A Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) employee will now have his transition surgery covered by the transit agency’s health insurance after first being denied coverage. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois said on their website Wednesday that the CTA has a new policy that does cover surgery and transition. Russia Brown, who works as a CTA bus driver, started transitioning in 2016 and started planning for top surgery after discussions with his health care providers. He got a letter from his doctor and psychiatrist recommending the surgery and had found an in-network surgeon. After scheduling the surgery, the ACLU said, Brown was denied coverage for the surgery because the CTA said it only covered the surgery for cancer patients.

ACLU of Illinois responds to President Trump’s proposed move to end birthright citizenship in U.S.

CHICAGO — President Trump is considering issuing an executive order that attempts to end birthright citizenship in the United States. The below statement is from Aarón Siebert-Llera, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Illinois:

“Despite last minute political antics by President Trump, the 14th Amendment’s citizenship guarantee is clear. The President cannot rewrite the Constitution with an executive order and the mere suggestion is further evidence of how little regard he has for our founding document. Any such effort will fall like other ill-considered actions by the Trump White House. It is sad that the President is choosing to fan the flames of hatred toward immigrants in this moment.

Illinois orgs react to possible new federal transgender policy

CHICAGO — The ACLU of Illinois put out a statement in reaction to a possible new federal policy that would erases federal recognition of transgender people. John Knight, director of the ACLU of Illinois LGBTQ & HIV Project:
“This cruel attack on transgender people is a new low point for the Trump Administration. We will not stand by and allow the very being of our colleagues, friends and family members who are transgender from being written off as unworthy of recognition. Hateful words can be issued from Washington, but transgender people are not going away and will not be silenced. Transgender people have worked tirelessly to challenge discrimination against those who are transgender at the local and state, as well as federal level.