Report: Improve climate for transgender people
U-M community members who are gay, lesbian or bisexual generally applaud the University's efforts to make them feel welcome. But according to a report issued today (April 26) by the Task Force on the Campus Climate for Transgender, Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay (TBLG) Faculty, Staff and Students, efforts are needed to support and protect transgender members of the campus community and to make the campus climate more welcoming to all TBLG people.
The report defines "transgender" as an umbrella term describing people whose gender identities, expressions or behaviors are not those traditionally associated with their birth sex. Most people have encountered transgenderism only incidentally and often are poorly informed about it, the report notes.
The report points out that transgender and transsexual students are especially vulnerable to verbal and physical assault. They also face discrimination in residence halls, classrooms and work places.
"One proposition underlying this report is that perceived lack of safety is generally correlated with lack of information; in other words, ignorance about people who are 'different' breeds misunderstanding, misjudgment, and in some cases hatred and violence," the task force writes.
Many of the task force recommendations address issues of gender identification, focusing on creating a safe, respectful and welcoming climate within the University community and on combating ignorance through educational efforts.
"We on the task force believe that the University should inaugurate a new era for transgender persons," says Bruce Frier, professor of law and classical studies. "Making these individuals feel at home within the broader community is the next major step in our shared effort to achieve diversity."
Provost Paul N. Courant formed the task force in early 2003 in consultation with President Mary Sue Coleman and Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper. In his charge to the group, Courant cited the University's longtime national leadership in practices and policies, which were implemented beginning in the early 1990s, that support lesbian, gay and bisexual members of the University community.
"Since then," Courant says, "awareness and understanding of gender identity issues have increased significantly, particularly with respect to individuals who identify themselves as transgender or who are questioning their gender identity."
"The University has been working diligently on determining and addressing the needs of our transgender students," Harper says. "From the Division of Student Affairs' Gender Identity Working Group in 2002 to the provost's task force, we are remaining true to our commitment to maintaining a safe campus environment that recognizes and respects all human identities. These efforts are making certain the campus environment is a place where everyonestudents, faculty and staffcan thrive."
The task force included faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members. In its work, the task force consulted experts on TBLG issues inside and outside the University, learned about TBLG policies and practices at other higher education institutions and in the corporate sector, and analyzed data from earlier U-M surveys and working groups including the Gender Identity Working Group appointed by the Division of Student Affairs.
The report identifies an "exponentially expanding list of state and local governments" that have adopted nondiscrimination statutes safeguarding transgender individuals. Similarly, about 60 employers include gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies, as do about 30 colleges and universities.
"Since our task force began meeting in late March 2003, more than half a million faculty, staff and students at other American universities have come under regulations forbidding discrimination on the basis of gender identity," the report notes.
The findings of the task force led to a total of 18 specific recommendations under seven headings. These areas include: the rights of transgender people; awareness, education and safety; services and support; health care; and curricular and scholarly issues. The report also addresses the University's relationships with external organizations that may not share U-M's respect for diversity.
Among the recommendations made by the task force:
• Amending Regents Bylaw 14.06 to include recognition of non-discrimination and equal opportunity for all people regardless of gender identity;
• Establishing a University-wide policy against discrimination based on gender identity by developing and adopting an addition to the Standard Practice Guide, while expanding protections provided in other relevant existing University policies;
• Increasing awareness of TBLG issues through education and increased contact between the Department of Public Safety and the TBLG community, and promoting visible representation of TBLG people in University publications and similar avenues;
• Providing additional resources to the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs to expand services, including education and outreach;
• Ensuring the availability and accessibility of unisex restrooms;
• Conducting a review of the Health System's Comprehensive Gender Support Program to ensure its effectiveness;
• Expanding the efforts of the University Health Service and other University health providers to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The Task Force members say U-M can become a "model environment" for TBLG people. To that end and to supervise the implementation of their recommendations, they recommend that the provost establish a TBLG oversight committee.
Courant says the report shows the significant progress the University has made since the document "From Invisibility to Inclusion" was produced in 1991.
"I am grateful to the task force members, who have done an excellent job representing the many relevant concerns and interests of the broader University community of faculty, staff and students," he says. "In the coming months, the executive officers will study, process and act on the report. In September, my office will take steps to further inform the campus community about the report and to provide opportunities to discuss it."
The task force report can be found at http://www.provost.umich.edu/tblg/index.html.