Two town-hall meetings have been scheduled by a University task force to serve as a forum for community members to come together and discuss their thoughts on the campus atmosphere for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

The group – known as the Task Force on the Campus Climate for Transgender, Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Faculty, Staff and Students – which was started in response to student requests made Fall semester last year and appointed in March – will be evaluating University policies and practices and making recommendations to ensure LGBT campus community members feel safe and comfortable.

Appointed by Provost Paul Courant, the task force investigates the climate on campus for transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay faculty, staff and students.

These were issues last closely examined about 10 years ago, when earlier groups made reports and recommendations addressing similar topics.

“The University has for a long time had general policies with regard to gays and lesbians and bisexuals and those are in the Regents’ bylaws,” said Bruce Frier, chair of the task force.

“But (with) the general issue of how existing regulations are working, we haven’t looked at this question for about 10 years, so it seemed time to do that.”

He added that policy with regard to LGBT issues has been changing quickly, and that the University has been working to respond to developments in a timely fashion.

One change the University took came Tuesday with its revision of the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, when gender identity was added to the code as a protected group.

In the past, University policies did not recognize transgender individuals in a separate category and as having separate needs, so some policies currently in place need to be evaluated to see if they adequately protect transgender individuals, he said.

Evidence collected by the Office of LGBT Affairs in a 2000 survey, results of which will be released shortly to the public, indicates that students – whether they were transgender individuals or not – felt that the climate at the University was unsafe for transgender individuals, Frier said, a classic studies and law professor.

That’s a very serious matter,” he said. “It indicates that there are some students who just don’t feel safe here. And that’s something the University obviously takes very seriously.”

Past actions taken on campus to accommodate transgender individuals include an inventory of campus restrooms, taken earlier this year, to provide a listing of where and how many unisex or gender inclusive restrooms are available, and the establishment of a Gender Identity Work Group this past academic year to learn about what might be missing in current programs and how to better serve transgender students.

Frederic MacDonald-Dennis, director of the Office of LGBT Affairs said he thinks the task force is both a necessary idea and a great one. “I think it’s an important time for us to do another test of our climate so that we can find ways of making it more inclusive and more welcoming for all students,” he said, adding that he feels there have been many positive changes over the years, including domestic partnership benefits and adding sexual orientation to the University’s non-discrimination policy.

As far as people who might not be entirely comfortable with the University’s potential plans or even oppose them, MacDonald-Dennis said it’s a matter of information and learning.

“I believe really strongly that as people become educated about the population that really people won’t be strongly opposed to it,” he said. “I think that all of our University members want everyone to feel comfortable and safe on campus and I believe as people become more educated about the whole population, that they’ll be in favor of these ideas because it’s a just a way of being supportive and inclusive.”

Meetings with the task force will be held on Oct 9. in the Michigan Union, with various times and locations within the Union to talk about the climates with regard to specific groups of individuals.

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