Yesterday was the University of Michigan's monthly meeting of the Regents for June. At the end of each Regents' meeting is an opportunity for public comments. Up to 6 people may speak on a given subject with a maximum of 12 people speaking in total. Each person is allowed 5 minutes only. I've spoken twice (first time, here) but did not speak yesterday.
Each month, since the beginning of the year, we've had a full slate (6) of speakers present to discuss the Provost's recommendation that the Regents change Bylaw 14.06 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. Yesterday was no exception. However, what was exceptional about yesterday was three of the speakers.
Lynn Conway, UM professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Scence, Emerita, spoke on behalf of the change for the first time. Her story is so compelling; she is a pioneer in the trans community (as well as the electronics community, but that's another story) and listening to her is so moving. The Regents' attentions were riveted.
Megan Biddinger, the new president of the UM Graduate Employee's Organization, also spoke for the first time and her speaking style and comments just bowled me over. She was gracious and respectful and on point all at the same time.
Brett Beemyn, coordinator for OSU GLBT Student Services, spoke. He reminded the Regents that it takes language and action from the top to create an inclusive environment. He spoke a bit about the transgender policy and environment at OSU. Wow.
The other speakers were also good (and included a trans student,and a community member and ally) but the three above just blew me away. I don't know when the Regents will move on this issue, but move they must.
[UPDATE] Here is an article in today's Michigan Daily about the bylaw issue.
Students continued to urge the University to amend its nondiscrimination bylaws to include “gender identity and expression” at the Regents meeting last Thursday.
Wolverine Coalition for Human Rights — a student group formed in January specifically to amend the bylaws – has aimed to send six speakers to each Regents meeting since February.
If added to the bylaws, the clause would protect “gender-related identity, appearance, expression or behavior of an individual, whether actual or perceived, and regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth,” according to the Coalition.
Kate Geitner, the head of the Wolverine Coalition for Human Rights, said the group has tried taking an educational approach with the Regents to demonstrate why explicit protection in the bylaws is needed. This month’s speakers included Brett Beemyn, the coordinator of GLBT Student Services at Ohio State University. Ohio State added a gender identity clause to its nondiscrimination policy in Jan. 2004.
“The University’s very public refusal to add “gender identity/expression” to its nondiscrimination policy creates an even worse climate for transgender U of M students by contributing to the devaluation of gender-diverse people,” Beemyn said at the meeting.
In February, University Provost Paul Courant sent an e-mail to the entire campus saying that the University “will interpret and apply the prohibition against sex discrimination in its equal opportunity and non-discrimination policies to include discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.”
This did not include an addition to the bylaws, but instead assured the community that a 2004 6th US circuit court case — Smith v. City of Salem — said that gender identity and expression discrimination is covered under sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Regent Martin Taylor said that the University has not taken action because of the court decision. He said he feels that amending the bylaws at this point would be largely symbolic.
“(The revision) is something we will have to consider,” Taylor said.
LSA sophomore Jaya Kalra, co-chair of the Stonewall Democrats, said the University is at risk if they do not make the addition soon. Over twenty-five colleges and universities — including at least three schools in the Big Ten — explicitly include a gender identity and expression clause within their policies.
“If we (at the University) want to stay at the forefront of civil rights and social justice, we have to address this now,” Kalra said. “We don’t want to lose our reputation as a leader (in social justice issues).”
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson reiterated the Provost’s stance that the University’s existing policies already promise protection of gender identity and expression.
“Our challenge now is to make sure we live up to that promise,” Peterson said.
Two offices — Institutional Equity and LGBT Affairs — are in the process of working with departments across campus to incorporate the policy and provide education and outreach to the community.
Still, Beemyn said that after the addition to Ohio State’s nondiscrimination policy, other critical transgender-supportive policies — including changes to housing and student health policies — were enacted.
See bylaws, page 8
“We made little headway until the nondiscrimination statement was amended,” Beemyn said.
Geitner said that the change to the bylaws would cover all gender identity and expression — not just transgender persons. Over 1,000 members of the community have signed a petition in support of amending the bylaws, she added.
Kalra said there has definitely been a lack of response from the Regents, but admitted it is a controversial issue that often gets related to the passing of Proposal 2 last November. The proposal constitutionally banned gay marriage in Michigan.
“This is not a political issue. People are being discriminated against and by not supplying this addition the University is condoning discrimination,” Kalra said.
In 1971, Michigan was the first major university to offer professional support services for gay and lesbian students. More recently, MSA passed a resolution in support of amending the bylaws to include gender identity and expression, and GEO succeeded in having gender identity added to the University’s non-discrimination clause covering graduate employees.
Liz Goodnick, a graduate student instructor in philosophy and chairperson of the TBLG Caucus last year, doesn’t see much progress being made without more help from the University.
“Until we get support from higher up in the University, we’re pretty much in a stalemate,” Goodnick said.