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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Campus

Transgender rights bill leaves campus divided


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Many view the passing of the Josephine Tittsworth act as a convergence of a myriad of differing ideologies, ethnicities and creeds. Though there was dissent about the language of the bill, UH administrators will put it on their agenda for review. | Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

For most, listening for their names to be called from the roster is a simple, if not mundane, reality of being a college student. Few would associate it as anything more than that, and even fewer would ever think of roll call as something that could potentially put their life in danger.

Viewing the world from the lens of a transgender man or woman paints a much different picture than most ever see, though. To a trans man, having no choice but to correct his professor and ask to be called Jason instead of Julie outs him as a transgender man to all who are present. Such a scenario not only places Jason in immense psychological turmoil but also makes him vulnerable to students who harbor negative sentiments toward the LGBT community.

On Wednesday, the Student Government Association acted for those students.

The Josephine Tittsworth Act, which allows students, faculty and staff “to apply their preferred first name, title and personally discerned gender in all standard forms of documentation or record keeping,” passed in an 11-4 vote in the SGA Senate Chambers. Throughout its brief lifespan, the bill has managed to become one of the University’s most controversial pieces of legislation.

The bill has garnered considerable outcry from pockets of the student body. Some have expressed concern with how the bill will impact residential life, while others have been unsettled with the implications the bill would have on Greek life. Both concerns were addressed in a town hall meeting held on April 9.

The bill will soon make its way to the UH administration. Despite the controversy in its earlier days, most students and faculty seem to be in favor of the Josephine Tittsworth Act — or at least empathize with the sentiments of the bill. Greek-affiliated students are no exception.

“I think the bill being passed is a huge stepping stone for our campus,” said Ava Sonleitner, a hotel and restaurant management freshman and member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. “The LGBT community has overcome so many obstacles in the last few years, and this is just another example of that.”

Despite the town hall meeting held to address such questions, a misunderstanding of the semantics of the bill seems to be at the root of the Greek-affiliated students’ concerns. Marketing junior and Delta Gamma member Carly Blevins said she feels that there is a disconnect in communication between proponents of the bill and UH’s Greek community.

“I’m kind of in the dark Greek-wise,” Blevins said. “I think everyone is (in the dark in) …  knowing how (the bill) will affect Greek life.”

Though the bill was passed less than a week ago, it’s already begun addressing the concerns with roll call for transgender students. Even now, the real-world implications for UH’s present and future transgender community have been starting to take hold, and LGBT Resource Center Director Lorraine Schroeder said she feels “very pleased” with the impact it will have in both sustaining and expanding UH’s diversity.

“I just got an email today from an incoming freshman for the fall who identifies as a trans man. He was asking me what the procedure is for getting his preferred name on his Cougar card, and he was concerned with having to come out to professors,” Schroeder said.

“Being able to change the gender just makes sense … (The bill) is a really a positive step for UH in making transgender people feel more welcome and safer on campus,” Schroeder said.

While the bill certainly addresses the long suffering of UH’s transgender community, it has also raised questions regarding its implications. Many have vocalized concerns with how the bill will affect gender-segregated organizations and gender-specific areas, like restrooms, locker rooms and Greek organizations.

“I think letting trans people (change their name and preferred gender on UH documents is) great for class purposes to make them more comfortable, but I think it becomes tricky when it comes to gender-based clubs,” Blevins said.

SGA Undergraduate-at-large Senator Alan Garza, a vocal opponent of the bill, spoke on his belief that the bill will force all students, not just trans-friendly ones, to comply with measures they aren’t comfortable with.

“Moody Towers has the communal restrooms, and (proponents of the bill) have said that they will only pair (transgender students) up with a student that’s trans-friendly — but what about the communal restrooms?” said Garza. “We have to consider the rights and make sure that transgender students are comfortable students, but we also have to be fair and ask ‘what about everyone else as well?’”

Garza also said he feels there was a double standard with how the bill’s opponents were perceived by the public. Despite taking every measure to approach the bill in a “reasonable, open-minded way,” Garza expressed his “disappointment” with students assuming he has closed-minded ideologies simply because he disagrees with the semantics of the bill.

“I’ve spoken with my constituents, and I’ve spoken with people on both sides,” said Garza. “I’ve spoken with people that are transgender to try and understand what it’s like, trying to see where they’re coming from. … People were quick to assume that just because I disagree, I was … intolerant and closed-minded.”

Though there will rarely be a unified consensus on LGBT issues, the bill was passed by an organization that “exists to serve as the official voice through which student opinion may be expressed and empowered” in UH policy and in services offered by the University, according to the SGA website. As an organization that exists to serve and implement the will of the students, SGA’s core purpose — student advocacy — remains unaltered in the midst of controversy and conflict.

Schroeder said she sees the passing of the Josephine Tittsworth Act as one that illustrates the changing nature of the student body — a myriad of differing ideologies, ethnicities and creeds, linked together by an empathy toward the needs of their fellow students.

“I do (think that SGA) represented the student body well. There’s still prejudice on campus from students, but I think that it’s more than a 50-50 split,” Schroeder said. “I think that most people lean on the side of a more welcoming, more LGBT-friendly environment.”

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