For a university that consistently prides itself on being on the cutting edge of equality issues, the newest amendment being considered to the University’s non-discrimination policy is reprehensibly overdue. Today, the University Board of Regents will vote to add the phrase “gender identity and expression” to the list of protected freedoms explicitly listed in the non-discrimination clause of the University bylaws. While the University’s stalling years to make this symbolic change is disturbing, hopefully such progress will now face fewer hurdles at other colleges and agencies considering similar changes.
Until now, the University’s non-discrimination policy explicitly listed discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation (along with race, religion, national origin, etc). When previously called upon to include gender identity and expression (a process that started in 2005), the University argued that this policy broadly encompassed issues of gender diversity and therefore additional mention of gender was not necessary. Recently, though, the University attempted to clarify the meaning of “sex” by adding an asterisk referring to a small footnote that said gender identity and expression was included within that category.
Any LSA student who has fulfilled the one-course race and ethnicity requirement knows that sex and gender are not the same thing. Whereas sex is a biological term relating to male and female physiology, gender is a social construct that addresses qualities like masculinity and femininity. The pointless maneuvering by administration officials in trying to get out of including gender identity and expression is mind-boggling. Was that asterisk really worth two more years of criticism?
Opponents of the gender identity and expression clause claim that it is impossible for the University’s policy to mention everyone, and the amendment would only set the table for more clauses in the future. However, if the University felt enough pressure to add the asterisk, then clearly the need to denounce gender discrimination is important to the community and it should be explicitly mentioned. The debate itself proves that there was some ambiguity here and there is no harm in clearing it up. The fear of future changes just isn’t a good enough reason to avoid a small symbolic gesture in support of transgender individuals.
The Regents will almost certainly unanimously approve the measure tonight, bringing the University up to speed with 75 other colleges and universities that already include the clause in their non-discrimination statements. Hopefully institutions that have yet to make this change will now be able to follow suit with minimal delay.
The addition of gender identity and expression to the non-discrimination clause of the University’s bylaws is a fundamentally symbolic gesture, but that’s exactly why it’s so important. It certainly sends a stronger message of acceptance than an asterisk. As the University has been accommodating of sex and gender issues in the past, it is shameful to have put off this clarification for so long. After all, symbolic gestures lose their significance if they’re adopted so begrudgingly.