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RISE Act Lifts Hopes For Student Aid

Sarah Jesmer
A non-binary person works on a laptop. Stock photo from Broadly's Gender Spectrum Collection.

Witness slips and committee hearings are on the minds of some Northern Illinois University organizers who are watching the RISE Act, or the Retention of Illinois Students Act, move through the state Senate this week.

The RISE Act, or Retention of Illinois Students Act, was scheduled for a meeting in a Senate committee Wednesday afternoon.

NIU groups like DREAM Action and PRISM have joined in support of HB 2691.

The bill would help - in part - students who are undocumented or transgender access federal financial aid or MAP grants, by creating avenues for those student populations to access state funds as Illinois residents.

Gabriel Sonntag is the vice president of PRISM, a group for LGBTQA students.

Trans people assigned male at birth have to sign up for the Selective Service regardless of their gender identity. This creates a barrier for some, said Sonntag. Without signing, they’re disqualified from federal aid.

The Act comes at a time when some openly trans people are banned from serving in the military.

“It is really interesting - like, there's this heavy burden when it comes with Selective Service when the military is inaccessible to trans people, essentially,” he said.

Sonntag said aid is important because a lot of trans students are low income or can’t rely on financial support from their families.

“[The Selective Service obligation and military restrictions are] oppressive. It really just speaks to this horrible situation that trans people are put in, and their bodies are put in every day. And it speaks to how marginalized people are, you know, cast aside, are not listened to, whose bodies are, you know, often talked about, but never protected,” he said. “Hopefully, with the RISE Act, we will see the situation become diminished.”