USF is taking steps toward adding gender identity and expression to the list of categories protected under its non-discrimination policy.
The Diversity and Equal Opportunity Office (DEO) has begun discussing the potential addition, and student organizations are planning to draft a petition in support of the change.
In an email to the DEO on Aug. 23, Associate General Counsel Gerard Solis wrote that Florida doesn’t have any laws surrounding those with non-conforming gender identities.
“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.”
Responsibility for changing these policies, Solis said, lies on the shoulders of the DEO and community support.
In August, Associate Vice President of the DEO Ted Williams said to The Oracle that he was open to considering adding gender identity to the policy, but hadn’t heard much “hue and cry” about it.
Yet, after hearing about multiple instances of reported discrimination against transgender students, Williams has approached the Committee on Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (CISOGI) at USF to discuss expanding the policy, CISOGI Chair Mark Hafen said.
Hafen said CISOGI had the addition of gender identity to the policy as a priority for years now and is setting up meetings with Williams to see what the implementation would require.
“I don’t think there are a lot of wholesale major changes that have to be made,” he said. “It’s something that’s definitely going to happen. We just have to go through the proper steps.”
Hafen said the process to amend the policy could take a while, such as when CISOGI proposed adding sexual orientation to the policy.
“This is a slow process, and this is one of those things where we’re looking at it and saying this should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “Well, it hasn’t, and being impatient about it isn’t going to make it happen any faster.”
One of the issues under question in the proposed addition includes the equal access to public accommodations, such as restrooms.
Hafen said the issue could be easily solved by designating handicap-accessible restrooms as gender-neutral restrooms as well.
“All of a sudden, the problem is solved,” he said. “No one is relegated to the gender-neutral restrooms. If someone is transitioning, wishes to use the restroom of their affectation, that’s fine, but many transitioning students have expressed concerns of privacy. This comes down to the personal choices of the transitioning student. It’s more about what they’re comfortable with, rather than other people.”
P.R.I.D.E. Alliance President Kindell Workman, a junior majoring in political science, said the organization has teamed up with the Feminist Student Alliance and College Democrats to start a petition supporting the addition of gender identity to the University’s policy.
“The DEO office seems to think that students don’t have a voice,” she said. “They don’t seem to think there’s a lot of uproar. We want to give them something to talk about, because we do have a voice and we do care.”
Workman said P.R.I.D.E. is drafting the petition and hopes to have it complete by Nov. 16, when it will commemorate National Transgender Remembrance Day. The organization hopes to get more than 1,000 signatures.
“I think this really applies to everyone, not just a specific group of people,” she said. “Gender identity and gender expression are how someone chooses to live their life every day. Just like you don’t discriminate against (people) for their race, just like you don’t discriminate against them for their orientation, what makes gender identity any different?”
Hafen said the process would take more than just policy changes, but also education programming of faculty and staff.
The DEO circulated a petition within P.R.I.D.E. Alliance, Workman said, to gauge possible training tactics for professors interacting with students from the LGBT community.
“If the person who is educating you with other students is not using the right terminology or isn’t getting the message across, then who’s going to?” she said. “When we look to people, we look to our educators.”
Hafen said the move to include gender identity in the policy is in line with USF’s goals.
“It’s not like we have hundreds of people in this situation,” he said. “It’s very few, but USF as a university has made a point to express the desire not to be just tolerant and acceptant of the diversity, but to celebrate the diversity at the University. I think we’re starting to recognize that that includes transgender people.”