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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, September 5, 2014

Just this year the Department of Education released guidance making Title IX protections for transgender and gender non-conforming students explicit. The move came on the heels of years of controversy surrounding the treatment of transgender students, on topics such as housing, bathroom use, and even disciplinary actions. Here are three recent stories about policy changes, federal exemptions, and the challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming students.

Women’s Colleges Open Their Doors to Transgender Women

Several traditionally all-female colleges have changed their policies to make them more officially welcoming to transgender and non-gender conforming applicants and students. Mills College, an all-female university in the San Francisco Bay Area, recently changed school policy to officially reflect the long-time practice of accepting self-identified females who are “transgender or gender fluid.” Transgender male students who transition while attending Mills will be welcome to stay on. Similarly, Mount Holyoke College announced a change to their admissions policy this week to explicitly welcome transgender applicants. Under the new policy, the school will accept any applicant who is not a cisgender male. Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella introduced the amended policy as a move to recognize “human rights at home.” The change has been met largely with enthusiasm from students and alumni.

Christian Colleges Seek Title IX Exemptions to Expel Transgender Students

Since the Education Department’s guidance explicitly expanded Title IX protections to transgender students, several Christian colleges have sought and received exemptions allowing them to discriminate against transgender students while still receiving federal funding. Citing religious beliefs, George Fox University received an exemption to deny housing to a transgender student. Exemptions granted to Spring Arbor University and Simpson University go a step further, allowing them to expel transgender students and reject transgender applicants. Such policies have existed for years on the campuses in question, but will now remain legal despite the Education Department’s guidance. Executive director of Campus Pride, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ students, has objected to the exemptions and the policies they preserve, calling these schools “dinosaurs of bigotry.” According to Windmeyer, “These policies are harmful to students.”

Transgender Challenges Transcend School Policies

Of course, not all of the challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming students can be solved (or created) by new school policies. This piece from Buzzfeed highlights difficulties that range from receiving appropriate housing to explaining preferred pronouns, repeatedly, to classmates and even professors. Transgender students talk about the awkwardness of emailing professors to request the use of a preferred name or of answering shockingly intimate questions posed by near-strangers on campus. While changing policies is an important piece of making all student welcome and comfortable on campus, changing culture is just as crucial to create a more inclusive learning environment.

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Prevention Must Include the LGBTQ Community
Posted by On Monday, November 18, 2013

Recent research suggests that members of the LGBTQ community are just as—if not more—likely to be victims of sexual violence as their heterosexual peers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010 Findingson Victimization by Sexual Orientation found that nearly half of lesbian women, four in ten gay men, half of bisexual men, and three-quarters of bisexual women have been victims of sexual violence in their lifetime. Such alarming figures make it clear that sexual assault is a problem that affects students of all sexual orientations. Moreover, the often marginalized position of the LGBTQ community compounds and complicates numerous issues faced by survivors of sexual assault.

For example, as we’ve written about in the past, it’s not unusual for survivors to be discouraged from reporting by the fear that they will encounter hostility on the part of law enforcement and other first responders. The fear of hostility motivated by homophobia compounds the problem for members of the LGBTQ community. For some LGBTQ survivors, reporting a sexual assault could mean “outing” themselves before they’re prepared to reveal their sexuality. There’s also the fear that, because the conventionally accepted narrative of sexual violence focuses on heterosexual assaults, an assault involving members of the LGBTQ community will be sensationalized.

Another ugly fact is that homophobia not only contributes to underreporting of sexual assault in the LGBTQ community, but can also motivate assaults against members of that community. According to theUniversity of Minnesota Morris Violence Prevention Center, sexual assault is often used as a weapon by those who wish to humiliate LGBTQ people for their sexual orientation, or (especially in cases where a lesbian woman is assaulted by a straight man) somehow “cure” them of their orientation. The unhappy overlap between hate crimes and sexual assault is especially important for administrators to be aware of in light of the Campus SaVE Act’s requirements for schools to include hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity in their annual security reports.

These issues make clear the importance of harm-prevention programming that encompasses the entire spectrum of a campus population. The current conversation about sexual assault on college campuses is, of course, incredibly important and a welcome change from decades of silence on an issue that won’t go away unless it’s addressed directly. But does the conversation campuses are having about sexual violence include all of the students affected by the problem? A conversation about sexual violence on college campuses that revolves around or even assumes scenarios involving heterosexual male perpetrators and heterosexual female victims fails to address the needs of survivors whose experiences fall outside the range of that common but by no means universal experience.

Administrators need to consider programming designed to help all students by covering the unique problems faced by members of the LGBTQ community. By bringing these issues into the conversation, schools encourage students to report sexual assault, regardless of their gender, race, or sexual orientation.  Inclusive and effective prevention training must recognize the grim but important truth that sexual assault can affect any student on campus.

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New Developments in Title IX and Transgender Students
Posted by On Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A recent settlement in California suggests schools will need to be more proactive in accommodating transgender students under Title IX.

In July, the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Arcadia Unified School District in California reached a resolution agreement based on a complaint that the district violated Title IX by denying a transgender student equal access to education programs and facilities.

The student, whose birth sex was female, has identified as a boy since a young age. With his family’s support, he began transitioning from female to male in the fifth grade. He asked to be called by masculine pronouns, adopted a traditionally male first name, and wore male clothes. The student’s classmates quickly accepted his transition to male.

The school district, however, was less accommodating. It wouldn’t let the student use the boy’s bathroom or locker room. When changing for gym class, he had to use the school’s health offices, even though he had used the same boys’ locker room — without incident — during a summer camp held at the middle school.

And when the boy’s class went on an overnight field trip, the district forced the student to stay in his own cabin with a parent while other students shared cabins. The student had requested several other boys as cabin mates, and indeed, several boys had requested him.

After the student filed complaints claiming the school district was violating Title IX, the district reached a resolution agreement with the DoJ. They agreed to permit the student to use male-designated facilities and “otherwise treat the Student as a boy in all respects.”

On the heels of this agreement, California passed a law to protect transgender students from sex discrimination and clarify existing protections.

In language that recalls the situation at Arcadia, the bill requires that “a pupil be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.” The California bill is the first of its kind in the US.

Accommodating Transgender Students

Both the agreement and the new California law indicate a growing understanding among lawmakers and regulators that schools are responsible for accommodating transgender students.

As the resolution agreement between Arcadia and the DoJ states, “All students, including transgender students and students who do not conform to sex stereotypes, are protected from sex-based discrimination under Title IX.”

The Arcadia agreement suggests the Department of Education and DoJ’s greater willingness to enforce these aspects of Title IX. Erin Buzuvis wrote at Title IX blog that the Arcadia case “represents the first time that the Department of Education has considered under its jurisdiction to enforce Title IX a claim involving discrimination on the basis of transgender gender identity.”

Universities and colleges should review their policies and procedures to make sure they have the proper policies and procedures to work with transgender students.

Indeed, in the past few years many universities and colleges have already been experimenting with ways to better accommodate transgender students. Here are a few examples worth considering:

  • Some colleges allow students to include their preferred names and pronouns on a class roster instead of their legal names, so students don’t have to ‘out’ themselves as transgender by correcting a professor in front of a full classroom.
  • The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith agreed to allow a transgender student who identified as female to use women’s restrooms. Previously, she had been restricted to using gender-neutral restrooms.
  • Oxford University in the UK changed its dress code so students don’t have to wear ceremonial clothing specific to their gender.
  • Smith College clarified its statement on gender identity and expression to address transgender students at the all-women’s school.

Despite these promising developments, there is still considerable debate on some campuses about what constitutes reasonable accommodations for transgender students.

For instance, this August, the UNC Board of Governors halted a plan by its Chapel Hill campus to offer gender-neutral housing, which allows students of different genders to share apartments and suites, sidestepping problems with single-sex housing for transgender students and providing them a safe space on campus.

Schools can expect these debates about gender-neutral housing and access to single-sex facilities to start playing a larger role in discussions about Title IX.

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