From the Daily: Protecting all identities

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published March 11, 2015

Adhering to its company policy of “no judgment,” recent action taken to ensure a transgender-friendly environment at a local branch of Planet Fitness in Midland, Mich. has raised public concern regarding transgender rights and individual rights to privacy. The company displayed a highly commendable response to the continual complaints made to employees and to other members about the presence of a transgender female in the women’s locker room at the gym. In response, Planet Fitness withdrew the membership of the complaining patron. According to a statement issued by the public relations director of Planet Fitness, members are allowed to utilize a locker room “corresponding with their gender identity.” Despite the progressive stance taken by Planet Fitness, these events illustrate the need to re-evaluate the current state of transgender protections and to promote anti-discriminatory policies at both the national and state level.

Protections for transgender individuals are severely lacking. According to the Transgender Law and Policy Institute, only 16 states — in addition to the District of Columbia — uphold legislation that forbids discrimination based upon an individual’s gender identity or expression. Michigan is not included among these states. In addition, transgender individuals are prohibited from serving openly in any branch of the armed forces, and under regulations, these individuals are deemed “unfit for service.” However, a recent army regulation minimally inhibits the discharge process of transgender service members by requiring the discharge procedures to be authorized by the assistant secretary of the army. Furthermore, these steps are small and ambiguous.

Currently, no legislation dictating which restroom an individual can use exists in the state of Michigan, similar to many other states. An individual who uses a restroom that doesn’t correspond with their biological sex could potentially be charged with “disturbing the peace.” Recent legislation proposed in Kentucky, Florida and Texas has sought to impose restrictions on transgender individuals from using a restroom that corresponds with their preferred gender identity. The bills propose varying degrees of fines or penalties for violating the provision.

While transgender protections and resources at the national and state level need to undergo major reform, the University maintains a fairly progressive approach to ensuring an inclusive environment. The Spectrum Center offers a wide array of resources for transgender faculty and students, and the University itself features a non-discriminatory employment policy for faculty. The University, likewise, offers gender-inclusive housing for students and gender-neutral restrooms across campus. For example, the Gender Inclusive Living Experience includes a section of rooms in East Quad and gender-inclusive restrooms are located in East Quad, Alice Lloyd, Markley, Mosher-Jordan and Baits II residence halls. One drawback of the University’s approach is that available resources are under-publicized. Ensuring an inclusive campus environment is an issue of importance for most on campus, and yet, many students may be unaware of the existence of gender-neutral programs and areas. The goal of the University — as well as the state and the nation at large — should be to be considerate of all individuals. Through numerous institutions and public structures, we must ensure that adequate gender-neutral options are widely available and that action is taken to provide a welcoming and safe environment for all individuals.