FILE - homecoming king

In this Oct. 2, 2015, photo, Cambridge Springs High School homecoming king, Kris Silbaugh, and queen, Camryn Schmidt, are honored at the homecoming assembly in Cambridge Springs, Pa.

A new report on inclusivity for students with nonconforming gender identities recommends Illinois’ public schools drop some traditional terms, such as "homecoming queen," and offers tips to help teachers use more inclusive language. 

At the direction of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the task force issued a series of recommendations for Illinois’ K-12 schools aimed at removing language and titles that transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students may find exclusionary. Some of the suggestions would change ingrained traditions that one advocate said may result in pushback. 

The Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force released its report Friday. 

“I applaud the hard work of the Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force and take their recommendations to heart, especially since the federal government has failed to give school leaders guidance,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “I encourage schools around the state to use these principles and best practices as they work to make their learning environments more inclusive.”

Many of the suggestions for Illinois’ public schools were reiterations of state and federal law and recent court decisions affirming the rights of the students in question. Others included showing teachers ways of addressing groups of students that don’t connote traditional genders or associate behaviors with a particular gender. 

“The training should include how to ensure things such as inspirational speeches, motivational phrases, locker-room talk, pep rallies, and team chants are inclusive and gender-neutral,” the report said. “Examples of phrases that should be eliminated include ‘man-up’ or ‘don’t be a sissy.’ ” 

Joel Baum, senior director of Gender Spectrum, said many educators don’t know that the language they’ve been using could come off as hurtful to students who don't fall into traditional gender roles. 

“If you look at the data about these kids, it’s devastating,” he said, adding that effort to be inclusive sends a powerful message to the same students that they’re part of the community.

A 2016 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality found transgender students who experience a hostile school climate were 41% more likely to attempt suicide. 

Baum said that some of the report’s recommendations may face opposition because they are tied traditions that have long existed in public schools. One recommendation was to replace terms such as “homecoming queen” and “prom king” with “royal couple,” for instance. 

“We want to be really, really respectful of traditions and we want to be really, really respectful of tried-and-true practices but we also want to be aware of what we are getting and what are they costing us,” he said. 

The report affirmed court rulings, reminding schools they cannot assign a transgender student to a restroom, changing room, or other gender-based facilities that they don’t identify with or require them to be partitioned in a single-occupancy stall of any kind that’s specifically designed for them. 

“Schools cannot impose on transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students conditions on the use of facilities that are not required of other students,” it said.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.