Trans college students: Challenges, resources and rights

Jessica Bayer, Assistant Editor for Features

Being a college student can be difficult enough, but sometimes, being a trans college student can be even more difficult.

According to the LGBTQA Resource Office’s webpage, the term trans is defined as “An abbreviation that is sometimes used to refer to a gender variant person. This use allows a person to state a gender variant identity without having to disclose hormonal or surgical status/intentions. This term is sometimes used to refer to the gender variant community as a whole.”

According to Kerry Poynter, interim director of the Diversity Center, the term trans is basically an umbrella term that incorporates numerous identities, such as transgender/transsexual, gender non-conforming, intersex, cross dressers, and performers/impersonators.

There are numerous challenges that trans individuals must face, and perhaps one of the biggest would be obtaining support and the same rights as everyone else.

According to a national survey done in 2015 by Ashley Kirzinger, director of the UIS Survey Research Office, and Jason Pierceson, UIS associate professor of political science, it was discovered that “81 percent of U.S. adults believe that transgender persons deserve the same rights and protections as other Americans.”

Even though many individuals throughout the U.S. believe that trans/transgender individuals should have the same rights as everyone else, this does not always happen. In order to change that, there have been numerous laws/regulations passed that actually support the rights of trans individuals. A major example of this is Title IX.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s website, Title IX states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

“Our federal civil rights laws demand that all students – women and men; gay and straight; transgender or not; citizens and foreign students – be allowed to learn and participate in all parts of college life without sexual assault and harassment limiting their opportunities,” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, stated in a U.S. Department of Education press release.

Another major challenge trans individuals face would be that of respect and understanding. Poynter explains that this includes being addressed as your chosen name/gender by professors and peers, as well as having them understand.

In order for individuals to fully understand this topic, it is important that they are educated on it. That means using the proper terminology or pronouns and avoiding certain problematic words/phrases.

Poynter notes another part of understanding is having individuals not worry about the physical anatomy of a person; instead, individuals should focus on what that person states their gender identity is and ignore physical characteristics.

As of a few years ago, the Campus Pride Index, which rates universities on their LGBTQ friendliness, for UIS, overall, was 63 percent. However, the score for Gender Identity/Expression was only 51 percent. Poynter believes that these rating should improve slightly with the changes that have occurred over the last couple of years.

One major thing UIS has done is label numerous single-user restrooms as gender neutral across campus. Thus far, there are gender neutral restrooms in HRB, BSB, VPA, UHB, TRAC, PAC and FRH. There are nine in total.

However, just because UIS has these gender neutral restroom options does not mean that trans individuals are obligated to use them. This has caused some conversation at UIS over the last few months after there was a complaint filed about a female transgender student using the women’s restroom.

“The University cannot tell a student which restroom they need to use,” said Poynter. This would be violating the regulations put forth in Title IX.

Also, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published a “Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Workers,” which states that “no employee should be required to use a segregated facility apart from other employees because of their gender identity or transgender status.”

These restrooms are simply an option for all students, visitors, faculty, or staff who might prefer a little more privacy. They are not a designated restroom for only trans individuals to use.

One other thing that UIS has done is implement a gender-neutral housing (GNH) option. According to their website, gender-neutral housing provides “a welcoming space for students to choose their roommates, regardless of gender, to promote a healthy and safe living and learning environment. GNH allows students to live in an environment where they can express their gender or sexual orientation in a way that is true to themselves in a safe and supported way.”

Both of these are steps in the right direction; however, there are still some things that UIS falls short on.

One thing would be using inclusive language on UIS forms. According to Poynter, UIS does not have “transgender” and/or “other___” as gender designations on many documents, such as course evaluations and housing application paperwork.

There are some places on campus, however, that have taken the initiative to change their forms to include gender inclusive language. Both Health Services and the Office of Undergraduate Education have tried to update a majority of their forms.

Also, currently none of the three University of Illinois campuses allows students to have a preferred name on campus documentation such as a class roster or i-card. But the current U of I president, as well as all three campuses, have shown an interest in altering this policy. It is unknown how long this process might take.

For more information about this topic, please visit the LQBTQA Resource Office’s website. They have numerous resources for trans individuals, including information about the transitioning process for transgender individuals and a list of online/print informational options.

They also have a large amount of information for those who are looking to be educated further on this topic.