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No discrimination protection for gender identity at USF

Published: Thursday, September 1, 2011

Updated: Thursday, September 1, 2011 00:09


USF's anti-discrimination policies protect a range of classifications such as sexual orientation, race and Vietnam veteran status.

Yet those protections do not allow students like Rebecca Cardwell to use the female restroom.

In August 2010, Cardwell, a senior majoring in psychology, approached the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity (DEO) with questions regarding her transition from male to female.

Cardwell said her main reason for seeking out the DEO was to ensure she would not get fired from her on-campus job after transitioning.

"I went there and they told me things like I can't use the women's restroom on campus and they said it was Florida state law," she said. "Later, I found out there's no such law saying I can't use the women's restroom."

The city of Tampa, along with 16 other Florida municipalities, passed an ordinance in 2009 that added "gender identity and expression" to its anti-discrimination policy for equal access to housing, employment and public accommodations.

Additionally, University of Florida, University of Central Florida, Florida State University, University of West Florida and University of North Florida all mention gender identity within their non-discrimination policies.

USF, however, is not bound to city policies, according to an email sent from Kirk Rascoe, director of Equal Opportunity and Compliance, to Cardwell on July 7 after he consulted the General Counsel, which provides legal service and advice to USF.

"USF is governed by its Board of Trustees, who are duly appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the Governor of the State of Florida," he wrote. "The Board of Trustees, the Florida Board of Governors and the Florida Legislature are the only entities that have governing authority over USF. As such, USF is not bound by the laws or ordinances of the City of Tampa or Hillsborough County."

If the DEO couldn't protect her rights, Cardwell said she wondered who could.

Rebecca's Story

Cardwell was never a fan of public restrooms.

However, due to her job and class schedule, which require her to spend about 20 hours a day on campus, she said she now wants to be able to use a convenient one.

The only gender-neutral bathrooms Cardwell said she was aware of when advised to stay away from the female restrooms were the five located in the Marshall Student Center — about a half-mile walk away from her classes in the College of Business and Administration.

Male restrooms were not an option.

"If I were to use the male restroom, I'd probably be harassed or something," she said. "When I go in the female restroom (outside of school), no one says or does anything. It's just aligned with my identity."

When Cardwell emailed the DEO upon finding the existence of Tampa's protection of gender identity, she received a response from Diversity Consultant Bill Havens on April 28, saying the university was not bound to Tampa ordinances — a response copied to her workplace supervisor.

"That was basically like giving (my workplace) permission to discriminate against me," Cardwell said.

She said USF telling her she cannot use the female restroom on campus, which she avoids to prevent causing trouble, is like having the institution not recognize her as an individual.

Gray Area

General Counsel Gerard Solis wrote in the email to the DEO on Aug. 23 that Florida may not have a law banning the access of public accommodations for transgender individuals, but neither does it have one that includes protection against gender identity discrimination.

"There are no federal or State of Florida anti-discrimination laws that explicitly recognize transgender status as a particular category," the email said. "There are no federal or State of Florida anti-discrimination laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of ... gender expression or gender identity.

However, some states and municipalities, like the City of Tampa, do explicitly provide these protections. Among the entities that do provide protections, there are not always uniform definitions as to who is protected and under what circumstances the protections apply," the email said.

Solis said in a separate email to The Oracle that while the DEO is responsible for amending this policy, community input is also necessary before changes can be made.

"I do not mean to imply that DEO is solely or exclusively responsible for policies in this area … The actual content and scope of DEO policies is routinely the product of extended input and comment by the USF community, to include faculty, students, staff, administration and community stakeholders, where appropriate," he said.

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4 comments

Anonymous
Wed Sep 7 2011 20:38
Oh brother. Here we go again with this trans-gender crap. Maybe I need to go spread some propaganda about my straight-rights.
Marcus
Thu Sep 1 2011 09:12
Here is a thing, just be a good person, a good human being. I should be respectful of you because you are a good person not because of your PRIVATE, PERSONAL bedroom antics. Last straw, to make the case that this is similar to racism in the Black community is a VERY disrespectful comment to insinuate. The last time I was followed at the mall, last weekend, I don't believe the person following me asked if I was a member of the LGBT society. I only see them following Blacks and Latinos unless you go to those ghetto stores in the University mall, which you then expect to be followed no matter the color. So wake up and shut up about your personal sexual practice because normal people have more pressing issues like two lying wars, troops dying, poverty in ALL communities, the increasing divide between the rich and poor who are mistakenly grouped together as lazy. Focus on these DUDE
Anonymous
Thu Sep 1 2011 09:11
So let me ask this, if the guy that shot Gabbie Giffords was a member of the lgbt, would you guys be out their marching to free him? How about the guy who threw the baby out the car window in Tampa earlier this year, or the sick mother who shot both of her children in New Tampa a few months ago? Really HOW much farther do you guys wanna push normal people back into the dark?
Anonymous
Thu Sep 1 2011 09:11
Honestly this is an outrage: I am sick and tired of lgbt people always creating an issue then at the end of the issue they say "I just wantt o be treated like anyone else..." no you do not. You want everyone, EVERYONE to stop what we are doing and allow you to do what ever you want to do. Lets have this discussion, YOU are still a dude going into a ladies bathroom. What would the symbol be on the door if USF take more of my money and create a bathroom for people like you who are clearly confused.YOU do want special treatment, YOU do want every other normal person to bow down to you and have your life style rammed down the throats of everyone...




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