Despite leaked government memo, Naperville Central works to protect transgender students


Mary Szymanski

“We try to make all students feel safe, comfortable and supported here at Central,” dean Roger Strausberger said. “It doesn’t matter what pronoun you prefer or what gender you identify with, all students should feel safe.”

Matthew Felbein, Correspondent

Rights of transgender students across the country are at stake after a memo from the Department of Health and Human Services was leaked to the New York Times on Oct. 29.  

Despite this, Naperville Central continues to work toward keeping the school a safe, inclusive space for all.

The memo states that there is a push to redefine sex under Title IX, which is a law that promotes gender equality as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.”

This would exclude transgender students from the protections that are offered under the Department of Education, including protection from harassment.

Following the leak, 56 major corporations signed a statement stating that they support transgender individuals.

“We, the undersigned businesses, stand with the millions of people in America who identify as transgender or gender non-binary, or who are intersex, and oppose any administrative and legislative efforts to erase transgender protections through reinterpretation of existing laws and regulations,” the statement said.

As of Nov. 27, a total of 243 businesses of all sizes and LGBTQ organizations have signed this statement. Along with these groups, Naperville Central High School is also working to support transgender students.

Roger Strausberger, a dean at Central, says that the administration is always trying to be more inclusive to everyone no matter how they identify.

Students are allowed to use the bathroom that they feel comfortable in or the nurse’s bathroom if they don’t feel comfortable using the gender defined bathrooms.

Additionally, a student’s name can be changed on their Google account, student identification and Infinite Campus.

“We try to make all students feel safe, comfortable and supported here at Central,” Strausberger said. “It doesn’t matter what pronoun you prefer or what gender you identify with, all students should feel safe.”

Despite the efforts of teachers and administration at Central, some students have had negative experiences surrounding their gender identity.

“There is a person who, knowing that I was trans, said that if she ever saw a transgender woman in the women’s bathroom she would run out screaming,” sophomore Taylor Ziegler, a transgender student, said. “Really, she just didn’t understand it, and I know she’s not the only one who isn’t understanding of the issues that we’re facing.”

Depending on how the government proceeds with this issue, discrimination against transgender students would not be recognized by the government.

Title IX also covers rights, such as using the bathroom that matches with their gender identity, of students who identify as transgender.

Rob Lugiai, faculty adviser to the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Network (GSAN) and social studies teacher at Central, sees the historical importance of this decision as well.

“There are very few times in our lives where we’ve had the choice between taking away rights from a group of people or giving rights to people, and this is one of those times where we can acknowledge that rights are being taken away from a subset of people,” Lugiai said. “That’s where I think a lot of the anger is coming from. A lot of the misunderstanding is that we’re literally talking about people having less rights than they did [before]. That’s really upsetting and frustrating to have to see as civically minded people, which we all are.”

Senior Riley Doyle, co-president of GSAN, identifies as cisgender, a person whose gender identity matches their sex, but advocates for all members of the LGBTQ community.

Doyle said some students have had issues with teachers using the correct pronouns or have felt uncomfortable when using the bathroom that matches their gender identity, so it was addressed this year.

“We had a student panel in August with all of the staff, that was really nice,” Doyle said. “I’d like to think that the school itself and this community is relatively progressive even though there is underlying transphobia which is something we’ve had a lot of problems with [as a community].”

Central’s policies currently align with Title IX, but most teachers were raised with  a fixed, male or female mindset on gender identity. There are policies that exist that might not be helpful to transgender students, but they weren’t meant to target them.

Lugai believes policies will change with patience and time. “If there’s one sense of culture that I’ve gotten from a student here, being faculty, it’s the caring we have for kids,” Lugiai said. “Even with a law change, the fundamental reason we became teachers is to help kids. No law can change that.”