Finding a voice in the fight for gender equality

When Jessica Janiuk, a public communication major from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, sought off-campus employment following graduation, she was rejected solely on the basis of her sexual orientation.

“I personally was denied employment at a large chain in the Eau Claire area for being transgender. They blatantly told me so when I applied,” said Janiuk.

Prior to 1996, no one institution recognized gender discrimination as an issue deserving consideration. But today, 74 such institutions – including all of the Ivy League schools – have adopted policies protecting the rights of such individuals. However, recognition and adoption of such policies do not occur in a vacuum.

“Very few states have explicit laws banning discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Wisconsin does not have a law like that,” said Janiuk.

Although Janiuk has not been able to inspire a statewide mandate, her perseverance through has resulted in an establishing transgender rights on campus.

She and a like-minded group of students pursued ending the discrimination on campus. Initial efforts were directed towards the student body president who outright dismissed the matter. Persistence eventually paid off when the Board of Regents- the governing body for the University of Wisconsin- agreed to listen to their grievances and subsequently mandated changes to create gender-neutral restrooms and instituted policies to end discrimination based on gender.

Through the efforts of groups like the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GenderPac), transgendered youth have been able to effect a change that affords them an opportunity at normalcy.

Measures such as gender-neutral restrooms are increasingly being instituted in colleges and universities throughout the country.

A study that GenderPac instituted this year revealed that colleges and universities are 1.5 times more likely to institute such policies when they are located in states or municipalities that provide individuals with similar legal recognition and protection from gender discrimination.

The policies adopted by these schools would not have been realized had it not been for the efforts of people likes of Jessica Janiuk and Jack Skelton.

Skelton is a graduate student majoring in English at the University of Texas and is “genderqueer.” The term genderqueer is an evolving concept, but one that currently relates to an individual’s nonconformity to the standard male/female bipartite traits.

As part of UT’s Queer Student Alliance, Skelton and his colleagues are trying to institute policies that grant rights that would make the campus “a more inclusive and friendly space for transgender and gender non-conforming students.”

“There is a prevailing lack of awareness about the possibility of gender identities that do not fit within the commonly accepted binary of men/women. This extends from general statements that presume all individuals experience their genders in the same ways,” says Skelton.

The Queer Student Alliance is seeking to orient the university to include non-discriminatory measures similar to those implemented by the Ivy League schools. They have been attempting to bring about such a change since last spring.

Janiuk, Skelton, and others continue to encourage the masses let them live their lives without the prospect of fear or intimidation. They wish to do the things that others take for granted- to go about their daily lives in relative peace and anonymity.

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