By MACKENZIE ROGER
During the past year, Oakland University students and faculty have worked toward placing a gender identity and expression clause in OU’s non-discrimination and equal-opportunity employment policies.
The policy guarantees protection to all students, but does not mention transgender or other non-gender-specific individuals on campus.
To raise awareness for this issue, the Gender and Sexuality Center hosted a lecture with speaker Renee Knipe on March 5 in the Oakland Center.
“We wanted the event to be fun, risqué … but also to spread an important message,” said Joann Bautti-Roche, GSC coordinator.
Knipe has been transitioning from male to female over the last two years, and spoke at OU before. Her presentation included a Top 16 tips list.
“These tips are mostly for the person in a relationship with a [transgender] person who has made the decision to remain included and fully supportive in their life,” Knipe said.
A transgender person is someone who was born with one sex, but identifies himself or herself as another. Transgender people are sometimes victims of violence because of their gender identity and expression.
The event was a part of Women’s History Month. On display at the event was a petition for attendees to sign to show support for the policy change.
“The board of trustees needed to see that students want this change as well,” Bautti-Roche said. “We received hundreds of signatures and letters from student organizations.”
OU spokesperson Ted Montgomery said in a November interview with The Oakland Post that OU’s Office of Diversity and Compliance feels the transgender community at OU is already protected under the current policy.
“Persons discriminated against due to ‘gender identity and expression’ are protected under laws prohibiting sex discrimination,” Montgomery said.
OU student Hector Jackson, among others, disagrees.
Jackson, a freshman Spanish education major, is known to some as the only openly-transgender student on campus, and wants the policy to be changed. Jackson was born female, but identifies himself as male.
“Looking at the discrimination policy, we really aren’t protected,” Jackson said. “The sexuality clause doesn’t cover every person. We aren’t even eligible for certain grants and scholarships.”
For other students on campus, OU’s policy may be effective, but they wish to include the entire student population.
“I know the current policy doesn’t include the transgender community,” said OU sophomore Laura Jung. “But it’s like with the gay community — Oakland doesn’t discriminate against them, so they should include the whole LGBTQ.”
LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning.
The petition will be presented to the OU board of trustees at the next board meeting on April 1.
Supporters hope that the trustees will vote to include gender identity and expression non-discrimination clause into the current policy.
“I would feel much better if we were included,” Jackson said. “There’s no real downside, and it would make OU a more appealing campus.”
Over the next several weeks, the GSC will petition to include the gender identity clause around campus.
Renee Knipe’s Top 16 list of tips for dating a transgender person, reprinted with her permission:
Get the pronouns right (even when he or she’s not around). This is the single most important thing! It’s not easy, especially if you knew him or her prior to transition, but correct pronoun usage is, literally and figuratively, the most powerful measure of acceptance for a transwoman. Refer to him or her by her preferred name (even when he or she’s not around). Do not use the word “trans” to identify her primarily…she is a woman or he is a man. Singling out his or her transness only emphasizes how he or she is different. Do not refer to him or her (or any transgendered person) as “tranny”…”tranny” is considered by most to be a hate word. Do not tell her how lucky he or she is to “know the best of both worlds”. Do not tell her how handsome she was as a man or he was a woman. Do not ask her to “boy” it up for special occasions, or to make special concessions when hanging out with you. (Don’t ask him to “girl” it up either.) Just because she’s lived in both roles does not mean her identity has a toggle switch on it. Do not ask him or her about him or her surgical status (this one probably doesn’t apply to close friends). Keep inviting him or her to parties! Or whatever else it is the two of like to do together. You both need that connection to normalcy. Do not out him or her to others. If you think there is reason someone should know about his or her special status, discuss it with your friend first. Be patient…he or she’s going to be insecure and make mistakes for a while. Be comfortable with yourself…people are likely going to stare (at least in the beginning). Have someone you can talk to…you are in transition as well. Be aware of your own needs and make time for yourself…you can’t be his or her only friend. It’s okay to be sad for a while – your relationship with that person is changing – but remember, your friend has not died. Get a copy of the book True Selves.