LSA sophomore Jaya Kalra was out with her girlfriend one night when a young man snuck up on her from behind and punched her in the head, sending her glasses flying and nearly knocking her to the ground. She said the young man had been offended by the fact that she was exchanging affectionate gestures with a member of the same sex. Kalra, who dresses in a masculine way, said that this was just one of several incidents in which she encountered hostility based on how she expressed her gender.

Kalra, who is the co-chair of Stonewall Democrats, spoke last night at a College Democrats meeting. The intent of the meeting was to educate students about the role of the University regarding transgender and gay rights issues.

Kalra and Office of Institutional Equity Diversity consultant Jim Toy addressed a group of Democrats about the importance of putting pressure on the University Board of Regents and administration to change the University’s bylaws to include a phrase that would explicitly say the University would not discriminate against transgender students, faculty or staff.

The bylaws currently contain a clause prohibiting discrimination against anyone based on both sex and sexual orientation, but they leave out gender identity and gender expression – a detail that, according to Toy and Kalra, is essential for ensuring the fair treatment of transgender people.

Last night’s meeting was a continuation of an ongoing effort on the part of various University and activist groups to have the words “gender identity and expression” written into the nondiscrimination clause of the bylaws. Their efforts have largely targeted the regents, who are elected in partisan statewide elections and who would ultimately vote on whether or not to add the phrase to the list of traits that the University will not discriminate against.

The resolution has widespread support on and off campus. Last year, the University organized a taskforce to investigate LGBT issues and make recommendations accordingly. Its report advocated the addition of the phrase “gender identity and expression” to the bylaws. The Michigan Student Assembly also approved a resolution urging the regents to amend the bylaws. Additionally, organizations such as the Office of Institutional Equity, Stonewall Democrats and the Wolverine Coalition have dedicated significant time and energy toward the cause. The Wolverine Coalition has collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition calling for the amendment.

Kalra said that after attending regents’ meetings, she came to the conclusion that the eight-member regent board is split down the middle, with four regents in support of the idea and four regents against it. She expressed concern that the board has been avoiding casting ballots on the issue because the Regents fear that approving such a resolution would have a negative impact on their future political careers.

The University has taken several steps on the issue. In February of last year, then-Provost Paul Courant sent out a campuswide e-mail stating that the University would not discriminate based on gender identity. In the e-mail, Courant wrote that the current prohibition against discrimination based on sex implicitly includes prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity and expression. According to Courant, the guidelines laid out in that memo apply to the whole University.

“(The provost’s statement) is the official policy, and we expect everyone to follow that policy,” University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said. “Now, the University’s focus is on making sure that those commitments are implemented, and that we live up to the promise that we made.”

In addition to Courant’s statement, Vice President of Student Affairs E. Royster Harper sent out an e-mail to administrators requiring that an asterisk follow the word “sex” wherever the University’s nondiscrimination statement is published. The asterisk would reference a footnote specifying that the meaning of the word “sex” encompasses gender identity and expression.

But many feel that the University’s actions thus far are not sufficient to end discrimination.

Kalra, who spoke at last night’s meeting on behalf of the Stonewall Democrats and the Wolverine Coalition, said until the regents officially alters the bylaws, further progress against discrimination will be stunted. She added that the University’s policy needs to be visible to be understood.

“When you think of the word ‘sex,’ you don’t think of gender identity and gender expression – at least I don’t,” Kalra said. “Having a visible policy in place is key to being able to educate people about it. – It’s hard to teach people about something they can’t see.”

Regent Rebecca McGowan (D-Ann Arbor), who has appeared willing to listen to LGBT concerns in the past, said that until the administration gives the regents a resolution to vote on, she could not speculate as to the attitude of the board.

Toy said it is urgent that the University take action. He alluded to several acts of violence against transgender individuals, ranging from hateful comments to a murder three years ago on the outskirts of the city. He added that transgender people often face discrimination even within the LGBT community. He advocates changing the widely used acronym LGBT, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, to TBLG, placing transgenders and bisexuals first in order to highlight their importance.

“The last shall be first,” Toy said, quoting the New Testament of the Bible.

He added that it was especially important for the bylaws to include the phrase “gender identity and expression” in addition to “sexual orientation” and “sex” because transgender people face the most intense discrimination of any in the LGBT community.

Kristine Claphan, a University alum and former member of the Wolverine Coalition, said that although she attended the regents meetings regularly, it was difficult to get her point across.

“I get really emotional when I talk about this, because I get really frustrated. It’s really hard to get in front of people and explain to them how difficult this is,” Claphan said. “It’s hard to explain that it happens all the time.”

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.