January 27, 2015

What Steps Can Campuses Take To Be More Trans-Inclusive?

Morgan Mohr discusses changes colleges and universities can make to be more inclusive of transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

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Picture of Positive Space Initiative Sticker Provided By IU GLBT Support Services

Picture of Positive Space Initiative Sticker Provided By IU GLBT Support Services

Campus Pride, a non-profit working to create a safer college environment for LGBTQ students, has posted a comprehensive list of best practices to accommodate transgender and gender-nonconforming students. You can evaluate the inclusiveness of your own campus with the checklist here.

Include Gender Identity in Non-Discrimination Policies

Historically, transgender people have been excluded from claiming discrimination on account of sex. The foundational case Ulane v. Eastern Airlines (1984) found that a transgender airline pilot who was fired because of her transition could not claim sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. At Indiana University, gender identity is included in the university-wide anti-discrimination policy, but excluded from the mandated anti-discrimination clause for the constitutions of student organizations. This means that student leaders or student organizations can still discriminate against trans* students without direct violation of university policy.

Ask Gender Identity in Place of Sex in Forms and Surveys

Having only two options under a sex/gender question excludes transgender and non-binary students. Though Indiana University surveys generally provide multiple gender options, IU’s admissions application asks only if prospective students are male or female. Campus Pride provides an example question that includes “transgender” and “other identity,” and notes that if a college must ask whether a student is legally male or female, a follow-up question on gender identity should be added.

Enable Students to Change Gender on Campus Documents

Campus Pride states that this process should not be obstructed by requirements that students change genders on birth certificates or driver’s licenses first, or “produce proof that they have modified their body.” At Indiana University, those exact requirements remain in place for students to alter their gender on documentation. Only students’ legal names show up on class rosters, exposing trans students to the risk of being outed by their professors. However, a recent policy change now permits Bloomington students to use their preferred names on student ID cards. Other universities have taken significant steps in making their records systems more trans-inclusive— San Diego State, for example, allows students to change their gender or preferred names easily in the student records system.

Offer Gender-Neutral Housing

All students can appreciate the freedom of this policy—however, having gender-neutral housing can be critical to transgender students. Indiana University already provides some gender-neutral housing options, as RTV6 reported in 2012.

Provide Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Although Indiana University offers many gender-neutral bathrooms around campus (check out the Google map here), few policies on this topic have been made public. The Indiana University Student Association has passed a resolution approving gender-neutral bathrooms for single-gender floors, and during the Indiana University Transgender Policy Panel, Barry Magee of RPS said that Teter and McNutt have already been renovated to provide gender-neutral bathrooms, “though the process is slow.”

Enable Insurance Coverage for Transsexual-Related Psychotherapy, Hormone Replacement Therapy, and Gender Confirmation Surgeries

Though student insurance at Indiana University is not trans-inclusive, the IU Health Center has taken steps to educate staffers on trans* issues in a new policy shift that includes allowing students to identify as trans* in health center records. This means that Health Center staffers will be better equipped to handle trans* students with dignity and respect. Indiana University can continue to grow more inclusive by joining the 61 universities that offer coverage for hormone replacement therapy and gender confirmation surgeries.

What Can Students Do?

How can students take steps to affect change? Join an advocacy group. Participate in demonstrations and rallies, such as the Candlelight Vigil for Leelah Alcorn, the transgender teen who recently committed suicide. Take steps to become a better friend and ally. Though ultimately university administrators are the ones who directly affect policy, they do not make decisions in a vacuum. The power to change campuses lies in students’ hands.

Morgan Mohr is a Wells Scholar majoring in Political Science, History, and an individualized major in Feminist Policy.