Lawmakers and LGBTQ advocates call out State Farm after insurance giant withdraws support for gender identity program | Illinois

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Illinois lawmakers and advocacy group Equality Illinois released a joint statement Thursday calling on State Farm after the insurance giant withdrew support for a gender identity textbook program.

Facing the backlash, State Farm, based in Bloomington, Illinois, this week ended its partnership with the GenderCool Project, a “youth-led” nonprofit that distributes children’s books about the fact to be transgender, inclusive and non-binary in schools and libraries. Now the insurance company is feeling the heat from LGBTQ advocates.

“When it was brought to our attention that State Farm had reversed this partnership with Project GenderCool, we found it reprehensible,” said State Senator Mike Simmons, a Northside Democrat and the first openly state senator. illinois gay. “In 2022, we need allies who are real and who are really going to stand with the LGBTQIA+ community, especially when we are under siege right now in so many parts of the country.”

Simmons was one of five Illinois lawmakers to sign the statement, which said State Farm had made an “instinctive concession to bigotry” by dropping its support for the GenderCool project.

State Farm came under fire this week after a January letter recruiting 550 agents and employees to participate in the program by donating a set of three books to teachers, community centers and libraries was posted online by Consumers’ Research. The Washington, DC-based nonprofit educational group launched a campaign critical of the program, calling State Farm a “scary neighbor” targeting 5-year-olds.

State Farm released a statement on its website on Tuesday explaining the decision to end its affiliation with GenderCool, saying it does not support “the mandatory curriculum in schools on this topic.” But as criticism of the abrupt decision mounts, State Farm released a statement on Thursday affirming its support for the LGBTQ+ community.

“We cannot take back the frustration, pain and emotion that many have endured as a result of our actions and our response, but we can move forward knowing that we will continue to respect and support everyone in our communities, representing every group within our society,” the company said.

Brian Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ rights, said the partnership between State Farm and GenderCool was never intended to make books mandatory for children in schools. .

“This was a volunteer program with State Farm for employees and agents … to make sure that books that talk about gender identity in an accurate and assertive way are available to people who want them,” said Johnson, who also signed the lawmakers’ agreement. statement.

Gender identity education in schools has become a lightning rod following recent legislation enacted in Florida, Texas and other states, which critics have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” laws.

In March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law “banning classroom discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade. The Parental Rights in Education Act has drawn outrage from LGBTQ+ advocates and opposition from dozens of companies, including Disney, which has 77,000 employees at its Disney World theme park in Orlando.

Last month, World Business Chicago, the city’s public-private economic development arm, launched a marketing campaign in Florida, Texas and Arizona to promote Chicago as a more inclusive business climate.

With Pride Month starting next week and the annual Chicago Pride Parade scheduled for June 26, Johnson said State Farm would not be welcome to join in the festivities — unless it returns to the decision to drop support for GenderCool.

“You can’t really cancel support for families and young people who want to learn about gender identity in an assertive way and then launch marketing blitz next week that says you’re hugely supportive of the LGBTQ+ community,” said Johnson. “At least you can’t do those two things without us exposing your hypocrisy.”

The GenderCool Project is an educational organization that helps “replace misinformed opinions with positive and powerful experiences” through the stories of transgender and non-binary children, said Jennifer Grosshandler, co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit. four-year-old Chicago-based nonprofit.

Grosshandler, who said the organization started working with State Farm about a year ago on the voluntary program, was more accommodating to the insurance company.

“We were disappointed to learn of the decision,” Grosshandler said. “The truth is, State Farm has done a really good and important job with the LGBTQ community. They make their own journey. And the outpouring of love and support we’ve received from all of our current business partners has been remarkable.

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