Staff and students petition to expand discrimination policy

By Web Master

By Masudur Rahman

Senior Reporter

Hector Jackson was born a female but said he didn’t act like a girl is expected to because he didn’t feel like a girl. Then one day in the fifth grade, Jackson said he was hanging out with a male friend when some other kids pushed them down, called Jackson a “lesbian” and his friend “gay,” took off their shoes and beat them with the shoes. Jackson said nothing was done by the authorities.

Jackson now attends Oakland University and said that, in his limited experience, OU has been a much more welcoming and safe environment.

However, he would like OU to take it one step further and add

gender identity and expression to its non-discrimination policy. This

would add official protections for anyone who experience harassment for

that reason.

MASUDUR RAHMAN/The Oakland Post

Hector Jackson will be sitting at a table display in the

OC for most of Thursday, Nov. 4 to raise awareness

 for transgender issues.

Joann Bautti-Roche, director of OU’s Gender and Sexuality Center, said she has been trying to get this policy changed since April 2008 but has a ways to go.

OU spokesperson Ted Montgomery said the office of Diversity and Compliance “looked into the matter and found that persons discriminated against due to ‘gender identity and expression’ are protected under laws prohibiting sex discrimination.”

“The University’s non-discrimination policies protect against harassment due to sexual orientation,” he said.

However, Bautti-Roche and others said they feel that protections for people of different sexual orientations (gay, lesbian and bisexual) are not enough and there is a need also to officially include people who identify their gender as different from the sex they were born as (transgender people) and people whose outward appearance don’t fit gender expectations.

Jackson is known to some students as the only openly transgender student at OU. He said he feels he’s a male and didn’t “feel like a girl” since he was young. Hector is not his legal name, but he has mostly been going by “Hector” since high school.

Jackson, a freshman Spanish education major, said he feels comfortable at OU because of the people he met at places like WXOU radio and GSC.

“Knowing we have this friendly atmosphere, it doesn’t make sense that we don’t have certain things in our policy,” he said.

Jackson said he will be at a table display in the Oakland Center on Thursday to raise awareness for transgender people and the violence they often face.

Bautti-Roche said there are several benefits of changing the policy, such as preventing faculty and staff from being fired due to gender identity.

She said that OU students reported being discriminated against based on gender identity and expression to GSC.

“It was not reported to the Office of Diversity and Compliance, because the students did not wish to make waves,” she said. “I’m not sure anything could have been done, as there are currently no protections in place for a case like that.”

She also said OU and GSC would be eligible for more grants and donations.

Johnny Jenkins Jr., Michigan program officer for the Arcus Foundation, gave a lecture Monday at OU, and said Arcus gives grants for advocacy programs but requires the institution to have gender identity and expression protections.

Bautti-Roche said GSC could use the funds to benefit the OU community in many ways, as currently it only gets less than $5,000 a year.

She said she initially met with OU administrators in April to discuss the policy change, but was told by Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Beth Snyder that she needs to show student support before presenting it to the board of trustees.

Bautti-Roche said she, with the help of volunteers, has collected about 200 signatures so far and wants to collect 300-500 and present it to the board in April 2009, when she hopes the policy will be changed.

“It will send a clear message of what’s valued at OU,” Bautti-Roche said.