College campuses across the country are struggling to determine how Title IX should be applied to transgender students under new federal guidelines.
Under the Trump administration, the federal interpretation of Title IX has changed, allowing states to decide whether the protections apply to gender identity. Title IX has traditionally been used to prohibit discrimination based on sex within education programs receiving federal funding. According to Andrew Baker, Binghamton University’s Title IX coordinator, that protection remains in place but protections for transgender students have been rescinded.
“In 2011, the Department of Education, under the Obama administration, issued a what’s called a Dear Colleague Letter, meant to describe and clarify an institution’s responsibility under Title IX,” Baker wrote in an email. “In 2017, the Trump administration-led Department of Education released another Dear Colleague Letter that withdrew that same 2011 guidance.”
Although federal protections are being withdrawn, New York state has added anti-discrimination laws in recent years. In 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued statewide regulations prohibiting harassment or discrimination based on gender identity throughout New York state, making him the first governor in the country to take such a measure. The state also passed “Enough is Enough” in 2015, sexual assault legislation that includes protections for transgender and gender-nonconforming students. In 2002, New York state passed the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in many public sectors, including education.
According to Kelly Clark, director of BU’s Q Center, these state regulations have protected students at the University from changes at the federal level.
“We’re not really being hit hard,” Clark said. “We’re not one of the states that this whole thing has affected.”
While the SUNY system does not have any specific policies protecting transgender students, Clark said the University is trying to support LGBTQ students beyond what the law requires.
“We are moving forward, doing everything that we can possibly do to make sure that gender-expansive people are being treated in the manner in which they should be and deserve to be treated,” Clark said.
Most of the cases dismissed in other states have concerned a student’s right to use bathroom facilities and play on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The University offers students gender-neutral bathrooms and gender-inclusive housing, and the Q Center also provides resources for students who experience or express their sexual orientation or gender in ways that challenge normative assumptions. Last year, the Q Center started the Pronouns Matter campaign, which educated students, faculty and staff on the importance of using correct personal pronouns to create an inclusive and respectful environment.
Currently, transgender and gender-nonconforming students are striving to create a stronger community on campus. Transcend, created in January 2017, is a student-run social group that aims to helps students of varying gender identities connect with one another. According to Winter Clark, the director of Transcend and a senior double-majoring in philosophy and the individualized major program and the founder, the club was the first of its kind to focus specifically on transgender students and the issues they may face at BU.
“We are trying to come together and figure out what [resources] are available to us on campus, and what can we do to improve those resources as a group,” Winter said.