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Students advocate for transgender policy changes

Transitioning from high school to college can be a socially stressful situation for any student. But doing so while while changing one’s gender provides added difficulties.

Though resources such as the USF Counseling Center help to make this transition smoother, some students feel the University can do more to create a gender-neutral atmosphere.

Jon Pascual, a senior majoring in psychology, created the Transgender Student Union this semester because transgender issues differ from gay and lesbian issues, he said.

“I felt that if I didn’t do anything nobody would notice that there are issues that need to be fixed,” he said. “It’s a slow process to do that. I don’t think that in the time I am going to be at USF it will change. We’re still branching out.”

To help raise awareness of these issues among students, Pascual said his organization plans on bringing in outside speakers and hosting events on campus next semester.

Lara McDermott, USF P.R.I.D.E. Alliance president, is also working to create a campus that promotes equality for transgender students. One of her current initiatives is to make changes to the USF Diversity and Equal Opportunity Discrimination and Harassment Policy.

Currently, the policy states, “The USF System strives to provide a work and study environment for faculty, staff and students that is free from discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, color, marital status, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age or genetic information, as provided by law.”

What the policy does not encompass, however, is gender identity, which is something McDermott said she hopes to change.

“This kind of leads to the issue that people who are interested in becoming male to female or female to male are not a protected class at USF,” she said. “Basically, if they were discriminated against, it would be perfectly OK. Sex is what’s between your legs. Gender identity is what is in your head.”

McDermott said students sex and gender preferences can lead to many shades of gray.

“Some people choose not to transition,” she said. “Or have it ambiguous and some people don’t want to be identified as a gender.”

McDermott is working with the Committee on Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to bring the proposed addendum to the provost in hopes of having gender identity included in the policy by the end of the spring semester.

But first, as a Student Government (SG) senator for the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, she said she would also like to change the SG discrimination policy.

“I want to go through the avenues that I know I can and then have the conversations with the provost and (University President) Judy Genshaft to show there is support on campus,” said McDermott, who is also the chairwoman of the SG Rules Committee. “It’s not hurting anyone, and it’s not taking away any rights from anybody.”

Pascual and McDermott are not the only ones who think it would be a good idea to add gender identity to the University discrimination policy. The provision was added to the University of Central Florida’s policy at the beginning of this semester.

According to an article published Sept. 8 by the UCF student newspaper Central Florida Future, “Students have been attempting to have gender identity added to UCF’s non-discrimination policy since at least last April … Arizona State and Ohio State, the first and second largest universities in the U.S., have non-discrimination policies in place that include transgender individuals.”

If the provision was added to USF’s policy, McDermott said creating co-ed housing options would be the “next logical step,” toward building a gender-friendly campus.

“Even if a person’s first reaction is to say ‘ew’ or ‘gross’ when they think of transgender people, I’d ask them to keep it to themselves and honor the fact that they are in college to get an education,” she said. “Go and educate themselves to understand the struggle that (transgender individuals) go through.”

Pascual said it’s difficult for those who are in the middle of transitioning to distinguish themselves as an individual gender when applying for housing.

He said co-ed housing should be made available in suite-style housing facilities, like Delta Hall and Juniper-Poplar to help alleviate the pressure of having to choose a gender. Yet, Ana Hernandez, dean of Housing and Residential Education, said that over the past 12 years no individual transgendered student has come to her department asking for special accommodations.

“If a student wants to be proactive in seeking out what options they have for them, contact (us),” she said. “It really depends on what the student is looking for. If it were they desired a higher level of privacy that would make them the most comfortable, then we would look at what kind of single options we had. If they had a mutual roommate request, then we would try to make that accommodation as well.”

Hernandez said these students may feel uncomfortable asking for special accommodations, but that is the only way the department can help them.

“We want to create a welcoming environment for all of our students,” she said. “So whatever we need to do to make that happen that’s what we need to explore.”