Senate passes Josephine Tittsworth Act
While students go through a typical first day of the semester, a professor goes down a roster to mark off students in attendance. A student in the back shifts in his seat anxiously awaiting his name, waiting to be called upon, unsure of whether to respond because he wasn’t born a male. He was born a female, and raising his hand would out him as a transgender man.
As part of one of the most diverse universities in the country, the Student Government Association passed the Josephine Tittsworth Act, a University bill, in an attempt to address the safety concerns of the transgender community on campus, especially in regards to those who have not formally changed their names and gender markers to match their discerned gender identities.
The University’s goals include creating “an environment in which student success can be ensured.” Co-author of the bill SGA Senator James Lee said he believes protecting students’ privacy by not unintentionally outing transgender students will create a safe environment for them and also stay true to UH’s goals and the University’s nondiscrimination policy.
“When a situation occurs where a student feels unsafe, unwelcome or uncomfortable in a classroom or in that academic advising, that’s something that’s stopping them from receiving the best education they can get,” Lee said.
Fifty-three percent of transgender individuals have been “verbally harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation, including hotels, restaurants, buses, airports and government agencies,” according to a 2011 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality.
The Josephine Tittsworth Act would 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” in order for students to have their identity and names match so as not to be outed in class or confronted by advisers or students.
The bill did not pass unanimously, and controversy has surrounded it. SGA President Charles Haston, who also co-authored the bill, said some senators and students have brought up the issue of Greek life and housing. He said that this will be unaffected by this bill.
“Although we talk about being ethnically diverse, that’s not where it stops. … I’ve learned so much from this school and learned how to respect and work with other people that I wouldn’t normally learn how to work with,” Haston said. “We have a responsibility as student government … to create an environment that allows you to receive an education here.”
Some of the senators who voted in opposition of the bill said they did so out of their senatorial commitments.
“I have to vote with my constituents, and they overwhelmingly deny this legislation,” SGA CLASS senator Will Fischer said.
Though the bill has had opposition, SGA CLASS senator Clement Agho-Otoghile said dissent is a right and should be a welcome part of a democracy.
“We don’t always have to agree, and it doesn’t have to be unanimous,” Agho-Otoghile said. “It doesn’t have to be a shut-out, but we can respect and understand that we can come to a space of understanding.”
Communications senior and transman Lou Weaver, who served on the SGA town hall panel about the bill April 9, said the bill is integral in addressing transgender student concerns and improving the overall campus experience.
“I don’t ever want to change, because being a Coog is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Weaver said.