Most members of the University community look at anti-discrimination policies and feel secure knowing that anyone who might treat them as inferior will be deterred from prejudicial statements and face consequences for acting with bias. These policies represent a promise that GW makes to students, faculty, staff, and visitors to the campus: that if a situation arose, the University would rule in favor of a student whose grade had been lowered because the professor didn’t think a woman should become a scientist or reconsider the application for employment of a professor denied a job because he is blind. Yet no policy offers to protect against discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity or gender-specific appearance. This is unacceptable. The University must include explicit protections against discrimination based on “gender identity or expression.”
While some would argue that the protections based on sexual orientation also protect the transgendered community, this is not true. While the transgendered community is grouped with the gay community for purposes of support and activism, this is not because our communities are the same, but because we experience prejudice because societal constructions of gender ignore how we have come to see each other and ourselves. For transgendered individuals, this problem is magnified in situations like deciding which restroom to use or filling out forms where “check the box corresponding to your gender” offers only male or female with no room for confusion, transition or neutrality. Transgendered people feel that they do not fit society’s definition of gender: that they belong to the “opposite” gender of their sex at birth or to no gender at all.
The transgendered community faces much discrimination; the University should abandon its position as part of the problem and take a step in the right direction. To this end, The Out Crowd is organizing an awareness campaign and is working with Student Association Executive Vice President-elect Morgan Corr (CCAS-U) to introduce a resolution into the Senate calling on the administration to include “gender identity or expression” in all university anti-discrimination policies.
Only by adding these specific protections can the University show the necessary commitment to equality – implied protections simply do not work. Anti-discrimination policies function in two ways; they deter offenders from acting with bias and they encourage victims to report prejudice. An implied protection suggests that a consequence might follow. This uncertainty undermines the function of deterrence of crime by giving the offenders legitimate hope that they will not be punished. It also undermines the function of encouragement for victims by instilling more fear in them that by reporting the crimes and having the perpetrator go unpunished, the prejudice and violence will escalate. Only by explicitly stating protections does an anti-discrimination policy become effective.
GW has a reputation for being safe and accepting, but we must keep our policies up to date. Nationwide, colleges and universities are moving toward this change. Roughly 20 colleges and universities, including American University, have taken the important step of amending their policies to include protections based on gender expression and identity. Others, such as University of Maryland-College Park, have made changes such as the designation of certain restrooms as “family” or co-ed. A few colleges, such as the University of Pennsylvania, have even labeled certain dorm rooms as gender-neutral or, like Ithaca College, adopted policies that transgendered individuals may request the assistance of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Resource Center to ensure that they receive safe housing. All of these policies are important to accommodating transgendered students, but the most important step is creating a clear message of tolerance through inclusive anti-discrimination policies.
Most of us enjoy the protections that come from inclusion of our differences in the anti-discrimination policies. People with gender differences should not be excluded from this same feeling of safety. GW prides itself on its forward thinking and can no longer legitimately exclude transgendered members of the campus community from its protections. We cannot continue to justify a policy that states that most discrimination will not be tolerated. It is unacceptable to claim that there is implied protection against discrimination when implied protections are not functional. The University must amend its anti-discrimination policies to include protections based on “gender identity or expression” to correct this injustice.
-The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is the programming director of The Out Crowd.