From the Daily: Prioritize transgender rights

Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - 5:23pm

At the end of February, the Trump administration revoked the Obama-era “Dear Colleague” letter, which extended Title IX protections against sex discrimination in schools to protect gender identity and allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that corresponded with their gender identities. By backtracking on this policy, the federal administration has significantly weakened schools’ incentives to allow students to use restrooms that correspond to the gender they identify with. Shortly after, the University of Michigan’s Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs passed a resolution that reaffirmed the right for people on campus to use the restrooms that correspond with their gender identities. The Michigan Daily’s Editorial Board commends the University for continuing to uphold previous guidelines protecting students. While we believe that transgender rights should be protected at a federal level, the state and other local actors — such as the University — have a duty to enforce these recommendations when the current federal administration will not.

Transgender rights are a nationwide issue, as human dignity should not be based on where a person happens to live. Redacting these guidelines put in place by the Obama administration affects people regardless of geographic location. Despite the promises of President Trump and Betsy DeVos to protect the LGBTQ community, rescinding the “Dear Colleague” letter makes clear the administration’s disregard for the rights of the LGBTQ community. Furthermore, this action once again perpetuates false and harmful notions that transgender people are predators. The daily experiences of discrimination faced by transgender people, including — but definitely not limited to — access to public restrooms, are difficult enough without a government that fails to validate their humanity.

Given that the federal government is rolling back on Obama-era policies, states must take action. States must create legislation that works especially to protect the rights of K-12 students and people in the workforce, who will likely feel the brunt of gender discrimination more than students on (usually more liberal) college campuses. Michigan currently does not have statewide laws, housing policies, employment policies or anti-bullying protections in schools with children of all grade levels that explicitly prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, Michigan has no laws facilitating legal gender change on official identification documents. In contrast, states such as California and Minnesota support and uphold these policies and more. Michigan state government needs to do more to stand up for the civil rights of transgender people to show fundamental compassion and dignity.

Nonetheless, as federal policies continue to cut down on previous progress toward equality for all people, and Michigan state policies are severely lacking in protections, universities across the country are gradually making strides to foster a more inclusive community. The University must continue to make strides along with them. In the United States, there are 1,036 universities with nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity and expression. Moreover, there are 212 colleges and universities, including the University of Michigan, that have gender-inclusive housing for people of all gender identities and expressions. Granted, East Quad Residence Hall is the only official on-campus gender-inclusive dorm at the University. Additionally, there are very few gender-inclusive bathrooms on campus. Therefore, the University must continue to work toward ensuring equal access to all spaces on campus regardless of gender identity. However, it is great to see that the University is taking important steps many other universities in the United States have not. Though we recognize that this is not a perfect solution, and there are certainly ways to improve and increase resources for transgender students, these are important steps in the right direction.

These are not the only two cases that show the University’s initiative for a more inclusive community. Recently, the University began to allow students to indicate their preferred pronouns on course rosters so faculty and staff know how students identify regardless of the sex on their application. This made the University one of seven colleges and universities in the United States that does this. While it is important to acknowledge more must be done to improve the campus culture and create lasting, effective policies, we commend the University for taking crucial strides such as these to make the environment inclusive for all students. We ask it continues to take steps to better protect the rights of all students.

While the Trump administration may have backtracked on rights for transgender people by reversing the guidance from "Dear Colleague" of the Obama administration, it should not dictate how we handle this issue, either at the University level or at the state level. Transgender rights should be a topic of federal concern, but given today’s climate, it is the job of the state and local actors such as the University to make protecting these rights a priority.