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Today is Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Transgender Community Looks to Make University More Inclusive

Pauline Park of NYAGRA
Pauline Park, co-chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, discusses transgender-inclusive University issues on Friday in the Illini Union. Park suggests that having more openly transsexual faculty and staff members at the University may help increase transsexual, transgendered, and gender-variant awareness, and perhaps act as a step toward changing University policy.
Photo: Margo Mejia
[URBANA, IL] As a University graduate and someone who identifies with the transgender community, B.A. Davis-Howe described the hardships of living with a "narrow-minded" roommate as an undergraduate student. He said conflict arose because his roommate could not accept his bisexuality. Davis-Howe, University employee in the undergraduate library, said the situation almost became violent.

"He even threatened to break something of mine," he said Wednesday night at a workshop for PRIDE, the University's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) organization.

The University's LGBT community is more vocal about the University becoming more transgender inclusive. Transgender is a term describing people who don't live according to traditional gender roles, but who usually have little or no interest in sex reassignment surgery, Davis-Howe said.

Pauline Park, University alumnus and transgender activist, addressed some difficulties she believes transgender students face on campus Friday afternoon at the Illini Union for the University Office of LGBT Concerns. Among issues discussed were incoming transgender freshmen deciding which residence hall to live in, unisex restrooms and locker rooms and same-sex domestic partner benefits. One area of focus was on University residence halls and restrooms.

Members of the LGBT community think the categories of "gender identity" and "intersex status" should be added to the University's non-discrimination policy, Park said. Intersex individuals are people born with some degree of ambiguity regarding primary or secondary sex characteristics, and gender identity is how a person views him or herself socially: man, woman or a combination of both.

The University's non-discrimination policy states: "It is the policy of the University of Illinois not to engage in discrimination or harassment against any person because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, unfavorable discharge from the military..."

Despite reference to "sex" and "sexual orientation," some LGBT members said provisions should be made specifically for those in the transgender and intersex community because members of these communities might face more discrimination than lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

Transgender students must live with a gender they might not identify with because of same-sex room assignments, in accordance with University housing policy.

LGBT students at the discussion suggested some provisions where at least in some residence hall rooms, visitation by members of the opposite sex should be treated the same as with members of the same sex, and overnight guests of the opposite sex should be permitted. Students also suggested an added option for students to choose a roommate regardless of the roommate's gender instead of what they label "forced gender desegregation."

Davis-Howe said the point of having same-sex roommate assignments was to ensure that no one was having sex with their roommate, but by allowing freedom of choice, students are not pressured to identify with a specific gender to be classified in housing.

Steve Wang, founder and co-president of PRIDE, said he thinks University housing tries too hard to play a parenting role.

"We're going to do what we want anyway, so parents are just going to have to deal with it," he said.

But Kirsten Ruby, assistant director of housing, said the University adheres to a non-discrimination policy that includes gender. She said at this point there are no co-ed residence halls because the facilities aren't there. Ruby also said that what parents think is an important consideration, but housing caters specifically to needs of students.

Unisex restrooms and locker rooms, which Wang said are "obsolete," were also an option proposed by LGBT members.

Park said she found gendered single-use restrooms to be more of an inconvenience because "there's always a long line for the wrong one," she said.

Instead of going to the first women's restroom he sees, Davis-Howe said he would rather walk two minutes out of his way to a much less used, much smaller women's restroom in order to avoid the bad feelings he gets from women when he goes into women's restrooms.

Emily Nuzback, junior in LAS, said she would be uncomfortable with unisex restrooms or roommates with different genders.

"I don't think that's right," she said.

Nick Sakurai, senior in LAS, said a large part of making the University more transgender inclusive is making sure faculty and staff such as resident advisers are made aware of transgender issues and trained to deal with these issues.

Benjamin Norton, resident director at Illinois Street Residence Halls, said resident advisors have two weeks of specialized training at the beginning of the year and are made aware of and trained in LGBT issues.

Clarence Shelley, special assistant to the chancellor, said the University is becoming more aware of LGBT issues.

He also said even though these issues are being discussed, he's not sure if any changes will happen in the near future.

"If students ask for it, I'm sure the University will consider it," he said.

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