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East Aurora puts time-out on transgender committee

About 50 protesters from Auroreastside churches gathered front School District 131's McKnight Center Friday November 29 2012 about an hour

About 50 protesters from Aurora eastside churches gathered in front of School District 131's McKnight Center on Friday, November 29, 2012 about an hour before a school board meeting. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 7, 2012 9:41AM

AURORA — The controversy continues over the formation of a policy on transgender students for the East Aurora School District.

The district’s Ad Hoc committee, focused on discussing the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students, has met twice in the last month, but will postpone its upcoming meeting because of concerns about the safety of some of the committee members.

“Several people said they were worried about their own safety,” said committee chairman and East Aurora School Board member Anita Lewis.

Because of this, “I just decided I want to take all of this information to the full board to talk about whether what we’re doing is helping us or hurting us,” she said Thursday.

At the most recent meeting on Nov. 29, more than 100 community members and pastors from churches throughout the city took time to speak before of the 22-person Ad Hoc committee about the creation of a new policy.

“I’m going to try to be respectful, but will be blunt with what I have to say,” said Robert Pryor, a father of four. “What’s going on here is very destructive, not only to the school, but to the town and the state. My hope is that the community rises up and expresses its disapproval for what is going on here.”

He wasn’t alone in his sentiment. More than 20 people took the podium with concerns regarding even the creation of a policy geared toward the rights of transgender students.

“(The arguing) is certainly not what I’d like to see, nor would the board,” Lewis said about the protest to forming a policy. “We’re not sure at this point that this committee would be able to do anything that is good.

"The committee was created to have both sides work together to come up with the best (solution), and I’m not sure we’re going to accomplish that. My concern is for the safety of our children and our community members.”

Several committee members, including transgender attorney Joanie Rae Wimmer, expressed their concern about the committee protest, which she said originated through the Illinois Family Institute website.

“Never have I seen so many people gathered in one place so determined to display their own ignorance, bigotry, and mean-spiritedness. I should not have been surprised because the protest was organized by the Illinois Family Institute, which has been certified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” Wimmer wrote in a letter to The Beacon-News and the East Aurora School Board.

“We cannot let a certified hate group prevent the Ad Hoc Committee from having its dialogue, proposing policy, and taking a vote.”

On Thursday, IFI issued a reply to Wimmer’s letter on its website.

The organization said that Aurora community members should be taken aback “to learn that someone who is not a community member is being allowed to serve on a non-elected committee that will be developing and voting on policy for their school.”

Committee member Crystal Gray said that disbanding the committee will do nothing but create more havoc surrounding the already controversial issues.

“(The transgender community) is watching to see what happens. If this committee gets disbanded, it will create an uproar. This is huge,” she said.

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