Thanks to efforts by the Q Center and the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity, the UW has clarified its nondiscrimination policy to better protect trans* students on campus.
The new nondiscrimination policy specifically guards against discrimination based on "gender identity or expression." Before, the policy protected against discrimination according to "race, color, creed, religion, national origin, citizenship, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, or military status." By adding the phrase, the UW now explicitly protects trans*, queer, and gender-nonconforming people from any discrimination or harassment based on their gender expression.
"Primarily, this was for clarification," said Emerson Sekins, assistant coordinator at the Q Center. "Folks - on the basis of gender identity and expression - were already covered under our nondiscrimination policy, but it wasn't clear. This was to make it clearer to our trans* and gender-nonconforming students that the university protects them within a nondiscrimination context."
As defined under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), "gender identity or expression means having or being perceived as having a gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression, whether or not that ... is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned to that person at birth."
While Washington state has had laws protecting against discrimination based on gender identity, the UW has not had a specific policy doing so in the past.
The Anderson-Murray Antidiscrimination law of Washington state has protected lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination since it was enacted through the WLAD in 2006. The law included gender identity and expression under its definition, but students felt that the policies on campus needed to clearly guard against harassment. Culturally, Sekins said, there is a shift to people understanding the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity.
"Most universities, and the Pac-12 specifically, mention gender identity and expression explicitly; we're one of the only institutions who doesn't," Sekins said. "We've been including it for a while within our definition of nondiscrimination, but it wasn't explicit."
Nicole Masangkay, ASUW Queer Student Commission director, is thankful for the policy clarification, as it is often hard for cissexual people, whose gender identity and physical expression align, to understand difficulties of those who identify as trans*.
"Everyday things, like career fairs to applying for any job they want, I think it's taken for granted by those who are cis," Masangkay said. "Some of the little things that actually can be detrimental to your life and being able to have access to the needs to get by."
Sekins and the Q Center first approached the Office of the Vice President/Vice Provost of Minority Affairs & Diversity in March of this year about changes to the policy. The Office of the President approved the change in August.
"I think that really this is signifying a cultural shift," Sekins said. "The fact that it was a non-issue - there was no backlash, really - just signifies how much of a cultural shift has happened."
This shift is just one aspect of a push to make campus more inclusive to those who fall outside the gender norms.
"The university is really becoming a really good place for gender-nonconforming, genderfluid, genderqueer, and trans* folks," said Jennifer Gibbons, ASUW director of diversity efforts. "We have gender-neutral housing now, we have a trans*-inclusive insurance option, we have nondiscrimination clauses, and they're working on getting more gender-neutral bathrooms. I think this is a really important step in UW becoming a better university, and a more inclusive one, certainly."
If students experience harassment, there are many avenues they can use to file a complaint, including the University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office and the Q Center.
"When they're not able to access their community or supportive staff and students, [trans* students] are far more likely to not succeed academically or drop out," Sekins said. "This sends a message to trans* students and our community that this community is valued. There are protections in place so that these students are able to access their education."
Reach contributing writer Zosha Millman at email@example.com. Twitter: @zosham