Legislators have sent a spate of pro-LGBTQ and specifically trans-inclusive legislation to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk this month, sharpening Illinois’ contrast against its neighbors as surrounding state legislatures move to add restrictions on healthcare, bathroom access and school sports for transgender and nonbinary residents.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb last month signed a law that bans minors from receiving hormone therapy or other forms of gender-affirming care. Missouri’s Republican attorney general imposed an order clapping tight restrictions on gender-affirming care for youth and adults before the rules were blocked by a local judge earlier this month. And Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed laws earlier this year banning hormone therapies for trans minors and requiring transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding to their sex assigned at birth.
“With this slate of bills passing … in other states, it is incumbent on us not just to say that Illinois has great laws on the books now that protect equality, diversity and dignity of LGBTQ-plus folks,” said Michael Ziri, director of public policy for the advocacy group Equality Illinois.
“We’ve got to keep moving forward as a state … so we can continue to be a beacon in the Midwest and across the country,” Ziri said.
Equality Illinois last week celebrated the Illinois General Assembly’s passage of a bill that expands the potential for construction of gender-neutral bathrooms. The bill drew attention when an opponent declared on the Senate floor the legislation would “cause violence.”
Other bills requiring gender inclusivity among state social workers, mandating LGBTQ-inclusive “cultural competency” training for Illinois medical workers and requiring state agencies to tally their trans and nonbinary employees are also headed to the governor’s desk, plus others advocates say help advance a pro-LGBTQ agenda.
However, one bill, allocating state funding as an incentive for schools that teach inclusive sex education, remains in the legislative hopper. Its steeper path demonstrates the extra hurdles facing legislative efforts to provide more resources for LGBTQ Illinoisans.
Following up on a 2019 law that requires all single-occupancy bathrooms in Illinois to be labeled as gender-neutral, Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) and Sen. Celina Villanueva (D-Chicago) introduced a bill in January that allows businesses, universities and other building owners to build multi-stall bathrooms without gender designations.
Although the bill does not mandate construction of gender-neutral bathrooms anywhere, it spells out requirements for anyone who does build such a bathroom, including that stalls must be sealed with floor-to-ceiling doors, and each stall must have its own waste basket. Urinals would not be allowed.
During a nearly 40-minute Senate floor debate on Thursday, a series of Republicans rose to excoriate the proposal. Sen. Andrew Chesney (R-Freeport) said the bill was “like woke-ism on extremism,” and Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) said she does not “want to go into a restroom where there’s a man next to me [while I’m] washing my hands.”
“Do we really need this bill?” Tracy said. She joined others who asked why the matter was worth legislators’ time when they were still waiting for a budget proposal from Democratic leaders.
“It’s a great question,” Ziri said in an interview on Monday.
Ziri pointed to a 2015 survey of nearly 28,000 transgender Americans, including nearly 1,100 in Illinois. Nearly six in 10 said they had avoided using a public restroom in the past year because they feared violence or harassment.
“If you have the opportunity to use a restroom that is gender-inclusive, that is private, that is safe, it’s better,” Ziri said. “You may not have those fears or concerns.”
The Chicago-based Community Restroom Access Project has been working for nearly a decade to advance the proliferation of gender-neutral bathrooms. The group cheered in 2021 when a rewrite of the Chicago plumbing code allowed for all-gender multi-stall bathrooms in the city. The group later joined forces with Chicago attorney Justin Sia to write a bill that would apply to the whole state.
Advocates at Loyola University in 2019 approached Sia, then a third-year law student, to develop the policy.
“As I got to speak to more transgender and gender non-conforming folks, I got to learn how much of a stresser it can be for them just to use a public restroom,” Sia said. “When some of these folks think about using the restroom, it would prompt anxiety that they could get harassed or even attacked over the way they look or present.”
The high stakes for personal safety in bathrooms were laid bare on the Senate floor on Thursday, when Sen. Neil Anderson (R-Moline) said he would “beat the living piss” out of any man who entered a bathroom while it was being used by his 10-year-old daughter.
“This is going to cause violence, and it’s going to cause violence from dads like me,” Anderson said, drawing cheers from his Republican colleagues.
The comment drew condemnation from Democrats including Sen. Mike Simmons (D-Chicago), who asked the Senate clerk to strike his words from the official record.
“It puts my communities in danger — it puts LGBTQ people, and particularly transgender folks, in danger,” Simmons, who is gay, said in an interview Friday of Anderson’s remark. “If you have people stoking violence and stoking hatred, people could go out there and do something stupid.”
The bill passed the Senate 35-10 on Thursday and cleared the House in a 63-41 vote Friday, sending it to Pritzker’s desk
State agency data collection
Simmons shepherded a handful of other bills through the General Assembly this session aimed at making the state more gender-inclusive, including a bill that, if signed by Pritzker, will require all state agencies starting in July 2025 to collect and report anonymized data on how many of their employees self-identify as transgender or non-binary.
The bill followed a similar state law championed by Simmons after his 2021 appointment that required agencies to collect data on their employees’ sexual orientations and gender identities.
“Gender non-conforming and non-binary folks live in every district in the state,” Simmons said. “So it’s important that they not be invisible — that they be reflected and respected in the state’s hiring practices and our personnel, recruitment and management practices.”
Simmons’ bill was passed by the full General Assembly earlier this month on a mostly party line vote.
Gender-inclusive language at DCFS
Simmons also joined Rep. Lakesia Collins (D-Chicago) to sponsor and pass a bill spearheaded by ACLU of Illinois that replaces all gendered language in the state’s child welfare and juvenile court rules. For example, statutes would say “parent” instead of “mother” or father,” and the law would refer to a “pregnant person” instead of a “pregnant woman.”
The bill also requires employees of the state’s Department of Children and Family Services to record and address parents and children in the system by their preferred pronouns.
In a statement released after the General Assembly passed the bill this month, ACLU of Illinois director of systems reform policy Nora-Collins Mandeville pointed to a 2021 auditor report that found shortcomings in the department’s treatment of LGBTQ youth in its care.
“Recognizing and affirming those youth by using appropriate and inclusive language is a critical first step to providing care to those for whom DCFS is responsible,” Mandeville wrote in the May 4 statement. “Adopting gender inclusive language promotes equity and respect for all people – a laudable goal for our State.”
Cultural competency training for medical professionals
A coalition including Equality Illinois championed a bill sponsored by Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago) and Rep. Dagmara Avilar (D-Romeoville) requiring that “cultural competency training” be included in any continuing education undergone by medical professionals in the state.
The bill defines “cultural competency” as including “information on sensitivity relating to and best practices for providing affirming care to people in the person’s preferred language, people with disabilities, documented or undocumented immigrants, people who are intersex, people living with HIV, and people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.”
Ziri said the legislation, whose language was attached to a larger bill that passed the Senate in a 52-4 vote on Friday, is aimed at making it easier for trans and gender non-conforming Illinoisans to find doctors who recognize their identities and needs.
“We know from survey data that at least a quarter of trans folks in Illinois don’t go to the doctor when they need to, because they’re afraid of how they’ll be treated,” Ziri said. “Folks are delaying medical care because of a lack of culturally competent care.”
School grants for inclusive sex education
Illinois legislators in 2021 passed a law requiring public schools that choose to provide sex education to teach from a “comprehensive” curriculum that touches on issues of consent, sexual orientation and gender identity along with more traditional lessons on anatomy and physiology.
After many schools opted not to implement the curriculum, complaining of limited resources, many of the same advocates behind the 2021 bill drew up new legislation this year setting aside $20 million in state grants for any school that chooses to teach the course.
Amid intense negotiations around the state’s 2023-24 budget, Equality Illinois and other advocates are fighting to save the funding from the chopping block.
“Passing a law is super important, but making sure it’s implemented with fidelity is also critical,” Ziri said. “Part of that will involve identifying resources to do so, including money.”
Pritzker has not explicitly promised to sign any of the bills into law, but advocates say they expect his support.
“The Governor looks forward to reviewing these pieces of legislation when they reach his desk,” spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh wrote in an email Monday. “He is a lifelong supporter of human rights and is proud of his record supporting the LGBTQ community in Illinois.”