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ANNA, ILL. – School district leaders in this southern Illinois town of 5,000 are distancing themselves from a transphobic comment posted by their local School Board chairperson, with one leader concerned the comments comparing transgender awareness to “supporting a mental illness” may violate state and federal civil rights laws.

Meanwhile, one of southern Illinois’ most visible LGBTQ+-identified nonprofits is joining a local resident’s call that Joshua Gooden step down from his School Board chair post because of the comment.

“That comment did not represent the district,” said Brent Boren, regional superintendent of the Anna Consolidated 37 school district, about Gooden’s comment criticizing Transgender Awareness Week. “We work very very hard at building our children, all of them, and this has had a negative effect.”

When asked if Boren was concerned that Gooden’s comments may violate the Illinois Human Rights Act or federal Title IX protections against discrimination, Boren said, “I would be very concerned that is a possibility.

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“That’s something the school board needs to look into and the ROE (the regional school district) needs to play a part in. We’re all working together to see if that is a possibility.”

 

 

comment against Transgender Awareness made by Anna school board chair Joshua Gooden

A transphobic comment posted by Anna Consolidated 37 School Board chairperson Joshua Gooden has some residents and a leading nonprofit group in southern Illinois calling for his resignation as board leader.

Regional Supt. Matt Hickam, head of the regional office that includes Anna Consolidated, echoed Boren’s comment, saying that neither he nor the district or region supported Gooden’s comment. Hickam said he’s received several emails after Rainbow Cafe LGBTQ Center in Carbondale encouraged people to email him about the comment, but says the next steps in reaction to Gooden’s comments need to happen at the local level.

The Illinois Human Rights Act bans discrimination in public accommodations for a long list of qualities that include gender conformity or identity. The act is supposed to “protect students of all gender-related identities from discrimination and harassment and to ensure their full and equal enjoyment of and access to all aspects of a school’s programs and activities.” In addition, federal Title IX laws enforced by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights are intended to protect students from discrimination for qualities that include “sex and gender identity sex stereotypes (such as treating persons differently because they do not conform to sex-role expectations or because they are attracted to or are in relationships with persons of the same sex).”

Anna residents Alison Smith and Paula Hasty are also concerned that Gooden’s comments may encourage singling out transgender students as unwell and unwelcome, and may leave the school district more open to being liable if negative consequences ever arise for a student or employee based on gender identification.

Residents, southern Illinois nonprofit call for Gooden to step down from School Board chair

Rainbow Cafe, which serves 20 counties around Carbondale and Anna, will join others’ calls tonights that Gooden step down, says director Carrie Vine.

Alison Smith, an Anna native who first circulated Gooden’s share originally visible only to his Facebook friends, will also call for Gooden to resign. Paula Hasty, a longtime foster care respite worker who is also a foster mom, and whose husband pastors two “open and affirming Lutheran churches” in Anna and Jonesboro, says at minimum, “somebody needs to talk to him about being inclusive. Or even send him to a class about inclusivity.

“He’s allowed to have his own opinions. But as a human being who took an oath to represent the entire student body, not just the ones that share his beliefs, he should not be making these comments.”

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Hasty and Smith said Gooden’s comments make them question whether all students would feel welcome in the district.

And the Rainbow Cafe wrote in its Facebook post publicizing Gooden’s comments that comparing being transgender to having a mental illness further marginalizes students who already feel marginalized.

Anna Consolidated 37 School Board

Joshua Gooden, center, posted a criticism of Transgender Awareness Week that compared being transgender to having a mental illness. A coalition is calling for him to step down because of the comments.

School Board Chair derided Illinois Education Association’s statement supporting Transgender Awareness Week

Gooden made his comments in response to a post by the Illinois Education Association that represents the state’s teachers in lobbying matters. The post celebrating Transgender Awareness Week drew about three dozen critical comments from the public, including Gooden.

The first-term School Board member shared the post with his own commentary, criticizing the IEA as “part of what’s wrong with public education and the American society.” He likened the post supporting Transgender Awareness Week to showing “support for a mental illness.”

Smith says this is the second time in six months that Gooden has posted comments specifically focusing on transgender people.

Gooden did not respond to numerous messages seeking comment. School Board Vice Chair Jim Hammer refused to comment.

This is the second time in two years that Anna has received focus because of LGBTQ+ issues. In October 2021, a group of high schoolers circulated a survey asking whether LGBTQ people should be allowed to use school restrooms, triggering nationwide coverage.

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In addition to disagreeing with Gooden’s comments, Hickam said his comments are partly an indication of the problems that arise when “new” school board members “motivated in many cases by political beliefs” take office.

“With that, we have a lot of board members that don’t yet fully understand their role within their position as a board member.”

Boren anticipates the comments and possible steps in response to them will be discussed at tonight’s School Board meeting, happening at 5:30 p.m. Both he and Hickam said the Board itself needs to first choose how to respond. Hickam said he is currently letting the School Board and Boren handle the situation,  while Boren said any disciplinary action would need to happen at the regional level.

Board meetings are held at Anna Junior High School, 301 S. Green Street.