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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Student Government

Bringing gender identity issues to forefront


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From right, CLASS Senator Guillermo Lopez, SGA President Charles Haston, CLASS Senator James Lee and recent master’s recipient Josephine Tittsworth addressed questions and concerns at a town hall meeting. Along with LGBT Resource Center Program Director Lorraine Schroeder and communication and marketing senior and transman Lou Weaver, they discussed a proposed University bill that would allow transgender students to use their discerned gender, name and title.  |  Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

The Josephine Tittsworth Act is a bill that has garnered considerably notoriety in its brief lifespan. Though it’s existed for only around a month, many questions have been raised because of the bill’s tendentious content — namely that it directly advocates the recognition of UH’s transgender community in regard to record-keeping at the University.

To address possible concerns surrounding the Student Government Association University Bill, a town hall meeting was held Wednesday in the SGA Senate Chambers, where more than 50 students, faculty members and alumni were able to voice their opinions about the bill.

The bill, which was authored by SGA President Charles Haston, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Senator James Lee and former CLASS Senator Guillermo Lopez, cited the University’s nondiscriminatory policy as grounds to allow “students, faculty and staff to apply their preferred first name, title and personally discerned gender in all standard forms of documentation or record keeping,” including “PeopleSoft and all other university documents that require persons to designate their gender regardless of the individual’s biological or birth-determined sex.”

A panel composed of the three co-authors as well as LGBT Resource Center Director Lorraine Schroeder, marketing senior and transman Lou Weaver and Director for Fraternity and Sorority Life Jason Bergeron led the meeting, along with alumna Josephine Tittsworth, a former SGA senator.

“It’s difficult for us to wrap our heads around the transgender issue, since there are lots of things in life that are difficult to understand, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real,” Schroeder said.

“The experience of these people typically is not that of a trans person, but of that gender they’re expressing. A transman experiences himself as a man and a transwoman experiences herself as a woman. Things like transgender surgery are all efforts to help their outward experience match their true identity and who they are.”

The meeting operated in a confidential question-and-answer format. Speaker of the Senate Shaun Smith passed around blank slips of paper on which attendees were able to write questions without revealing their identities. A considerable majority of the questions were regarding the legalities and real-world effects of the bill rather than people expressing their opinions regarding it.

“People are realizing that diversity is an asset — not something that holds you back, but something that helps you step forward,” Tittsworth said.
A concern that seemed to resonate with many dealt with the issue of housing and whether transwomen who were identified as female on UH documents could be assigned as roommates to women who are not trans.

“Though I can’t say how specifically it would be done, the safety and consideration of all students would be taken into consideration,” Schroeder said. “We’d work the ins and outs of how we’d make those accommodations in the housing process. Just because we don’t know the answers to those questions doesn’t mean it can’t be done — 47 schools have already done (what this bill proposes).”

Several members of the UH Greek community voiced the concerns of Panhellenic fraternities and sororities during the meeting. The possibility of a transwoman filing legal suit for being rejected, though it may not have been on the basis of gender identity, was addressed.

“Throughout our conversations, it seems that this has become a fraternity and sorority issue … and I don’t see it as that,” Bergeron said. “Fraternities and sororities have always been about mutual selection of members. They (will still be allowed to) select whom they want in their organization.”

Bergeron cited a favorite quote of his: “‘Seek to understand, then to be understood.’ There’s an incredible amount of opportunity to understand, and then work on being understood.”

SGA will vote on the bill in an upcoming meeting.

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