University defines gendered facilities policy

Em Maier & Andrew Shull | March 21, 2012    

Contrary to the wishes of a University advisory body, Pitt’s transgender students will have to… Contrary to the wishes of a University advisory body, Pitt’s transgender students will have to use the bathroom facilities that correspond to the one on their birth certificates, rather than the one they identify with.

A University representative delivered news of the new standard concerning transgender students to Pitt’s Anti-Discriminatory Policies Committee Tuesday.

Last month, the ADP committee, one of the standing committees of the University Senate, unanimously passed a resolution that would allow students to use bathrooms allocated to the gender they identify with, not their natal sex. The ADP committee does not make policy, but instead advises the University Senate. The committee includes Pitt faculty, staff and two Pitt students who do not have voting power: Board member Julie Halinan and Rainbow Alliance President Tricia Dougherty.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, an unidentified University representative said that students would be forced to use gendered facilities according to the sex listed on their birth certificates.

The person said in the meeting she represented both Pitt’s office of the General Counsel and Office of Human Resources.

In a statement signed by Jane Feuer, ADP committee chairwoman; Deborah Brake, a past chairwoman; Bruce Venarde, an elected member, and Mark Lynn Anderson, committee secretary, the committee members said that Tuesday was the first time they had heard of the University’s stance on “sex-separate facilities.”

“This came as a shock to us, since the Oakland campus practice has been, at least for restroom use (not showers or housing) to allow students to use the restroom that matches their lived gender identity, as long as there is some documentation from a health provider (confirming that the student identifies as a person of that gender),” the statement said.

Carol Mohamed, director of Pitt’s Office of Affirmative Action, Diversity and Inclusion, declined to comment on the issue.

The Office of the University Counsel did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Dougherty said the new policy surprised her after the work the committee had done on the proposed policy.

“The general reaction [at the meeting] was horrified. There is an obvious consensus that this is ridiculous, that this wasn’t OK, and people were really upset, and they were working to change it,” Dougherty said.

Alice Haas, a junior transgender student, also didn’t react positively to Pitt’s gendered-facility policy. Haas identifies as a female.

“I find it absolutely barbaric and appalling that the University of Pittsburgh requires forced castration in order for me to be considered female, especially when my driver’s license and passport both state otherwise,” Haas said. “It is in no way just or appropriate to force me to provide information on my genitals or my birth certificate.”

Anderson said in an email that he was disappointed at the announcement.

“Our committee has been working on transgender issues for over a year, almost two … and the announcement this morning of this ‘standard’ was simply devastating to many members of our committee,” he said.

Dougherty said that this standard presents a number of issues for transgender students.

For one, to change one’s sex on a birth certificate, Dougherty said, an individual must get sex reassignment surgery, which she said was generally “prohibitively expensive” for college students, as well as a lengthy undertaking.

The website for Aetna Insurance stated that the process to go through gender reassignment surgery takes at least 12 months. It involves hormone therapies, multiple screenings and finally surgery, according to the website.

Dougherty said that, generally, the first step for transgender persons with their natal sex listed on their birth certificates is to seek out gender-neutral bathrooms.

But these are less common than gendered bathrooms, and no directory exists as to where these facilities are located on campus. Currently, Pitt’s gender-neutral bathrooms exist in a number of locations, including on the top floor the Cathedral of Learning and in Market Central.

Dougherty said that transgender individuals entering a gendered facility for their natal sex could also face harassment.

“A gender-neutral bathroom is much safer,” she said. “I would fear being harassed. I would say that I hope there really wouldn’t be a threat, but I have to acknowledge that there would be a safety risk.”

Dougherty said that, formerly, if a transgender student was confronted in a bathroom of the gender they identify with, the student could send the person who confronted him or her to the affirmative action office.

But given the new standard clarified before the ADP committee today, that is no longer the case.

Richard White, chairman of the Student Government Board’s Transportation and Safety Committee, said that he spoke with Dougherty after the meeting and plans to have his committee address the clarified standard.

White said that forcing students to use bathroom facilities of their natal gender “could expose them to potential physical or verbal abuse.”

However, White said that it was too early to discuss what action his committee will take.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s statistics on hate crimes include those associated with sexual orientation but not gender identity. The Department of Justice did not return multiple requests for comment.

The issue came up three different times during Tuesday night’s Student Government Board meeting.

Board member Julie Hallinan explained the claified policy during her address to the Board, explaining it as “kind of a big thing.”

Board member Zoe Samudzi also commended Hallinan’s and Dougherty’s efforts to reverse the policy during her address to the Board. She futher commented following the meeting.

“It might be a generation devide,” she said. “But the administration needs to understand that your sex is not your gender.”

Dougherty addressed the policy as well during the open-floor segment of the meeting. She took the time to advertise an event the Rainbow Allience will hold on Thursday.The club plans to host a seminar detailing how Pitt’s policies will apply to housing, bathrooms and other facilities. The meeting will explain what has changed concerning Pitt’s transgender policy and what avenues are available.

The club also plans on creating petitions and letters to send to the administration in the hope of informing the University of its community’s concerns.

“There are a lot of students who are walking around thinking they’re protected, and they were [Monday], and now they’re not. It’s important to educate [them] what their rights are and what they aren’t,” Dougherty said.

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