Senate introduces bill to expand gender identity options
In the first meeting of the 51st administration of the Student Government Association, newly elected and appointed student leaders heard the introduction of the Josephine Tittsworth Act, which calls upon the University to expand the formal rights of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The Josephine Tittsworth Act asks the University to “fulfill its existing nondiscrimination policy (of the UH Student Handbook)” in regards to LGBT students.
The bill seeks to acknowledge that “gender expression is the external characteristics presented by an individual such as masculine or feminine features displayed in mannerisms, speech, social environments or attire,” and to formally acknowledge “the terms, gender identity and gender expression represented trans, transgender and gender-nonconforming students, faculty and staff” on all University documentation.
“Honestly, this is a freedom of speech issue. It allows people to choose which box to check. Over the past few weeks, people had unfortunately misinterpreted (the bill). This bill is about respect and tolerance on this campus,” said newly elected SGA President Charles Haston.
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences senator James Lee explained the real-world effects the bill would have on students who don’t identify with binary gender labels.
Often, a transgender student “who goes by the name of Robert will be ‘outed’ in class when his professor calls him Amy during roll call,” essentially announcing to the class that the student wasn’t born as the gender he or she identifies with.
The bill cited “high rates of harassment, physical violence and sexual assaults” as a result of failing to formally acknowledge non-binary and transgender identities.
“This bill will translate into people being open with their identity,” said Tanzeem Chowdhury, former undergraduate-at-large senator.
“I think it would create a safer campus. Currently, UH is the second-most diverse campus in the nation. We’re always making progress in acceptance, and this would be a strong move forward — it would create a safer campus not only for members of the LGBT community, but for the entire student body.”
A town hall meeting to discuss the Josephine Tittsworth Act will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the SGA Senate Chambers in the University Center North.
Also in the first meeting of his administration, Haston also made the first appointment of his administration when the SGA Senate and he unanimously appointed Leo Mata, who formerly worked on Haston’s REDvolution presidential campaign, to chief of staff in the SGA Cabinet.
“I’ve known Leo for a while, and if you were here on campus, you’ve seen Leo’s ability to handle chaos. His leadership and his other experiences show what Leo can do,” Lee said.
Haston also announced he had hired former House of Red presidential candidate Andrea Segovia as deputy public relations officer.
She will deal primarily with bolstering SGA’s visibility and student outreach efforts.
“One of the things that we’re going to be doing is (setting up tables) at the PGH, really pushing ImproveUH for our student body and making sure that we have senators out there making this organization extremely visible at football games and around campus,” Haston said.
SGA also unanimously passed a resolution in support of human rights in Venezuela, Ukraine and “all affected students at the University of Houston.”
SGAR51001 addresses the “recent events in Venezuela and Ukraine, characterized by protests expressing deep social and economic discontent carried upon by civic and student population alike,” expressing that such events have “drawn the concern of the worldwide community.”
Bauer Senator and Sigma Nu member Randall Williams was also unanimously appointed to director of finance in the SGA Cabinet.
Senator for the College of Engineering Shaun Smith was elected and sworn in as the speaker of the Senate, beating 50th speaker of the Senate Sebastian Agudelo and CLASS senator Clement Agho-Otoghile for the position.
Pooja Magadi, former C.T. Bauer College of Business Senator, was also appointed to her former Senate seat.