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George Washington University student group Trans Education and Advocacy (TEA) is spearheading the campaign to add “gender expression and identity” as a protected group in the university’s non-discrimination policy. In 2006, “gender expression and identity” became a protected group under the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act, but the university’s policy has since failed to follow suit.
G.W.’s non-discrimination policy currently reads:”The University will not permit discrimination on grounds of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation or identity, or any other illegal basis in any University-recognized area of student life.” Even though “gender expression and identity” is officially incorporated into the university policy under D.C. law, the lack of explicit wording at the university level can make filing grievances with the University Police Department and school administrators very, very difficult (review my G.W. transgender discrimination story, “Menace to Sorority,” for a refresher).
In short, the argument goes like this: administrators aren’t always aware that “gender identity” is a protected group in D.C., are not sure how to file school complaints based on that group, and are generally ignorant of transgender issues on campus.
In G.W. student newspaper the Hatchet this week, G.W. Law Professor John Banzhaf raised several issues with TEA’s proposed amendment to the non-discrimination policy. Banzhaf has crusaded for gender equality in D.C. and elsewhere (and commented on a story I wrote earlier this year about age discrimination in local bars). Banzhaf’s concerns about the amendment included the fact that the amendment could open women’s restroom use to “transvestites or cross-dressers—-including heterosexual men in dresses,” and that the university already covers gender identity in its “sexual identity” protection, so the protection would be redundant.
If the protection is redundant, why will it provide for this new menace of cross-dressing men using women’s bathrooms? After all, “gender identity” is already protected throughout D.C.—-if that’s a threat, it’s a threat that should already be evident across the District.
Today, G.W.’s GLBT community responded to Banzhaf, noting, among other things, that the hot-button bathroom issue is, in fact, not a threat. Former campus Allied in Pride President Neha Shah wrote that Banzhaf’s editorial revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of both the transgender community—-which he referred to, incorrectly, as “transgendered”—-and “sexual identity,” which is separate from “gender identity.” Shah also asserted that Banzhaf’s bathroom concerns were unfounded, writing: “hundreds of universities have implemented this policy and this has never been a problem. Ever.”