One of my previous goals was to meet with Pitt Administration to see what they had to say about why things are as they are right now. I contact Dr Randy Juhl in the Chancellor’s office. I have known Randy for almost 20 years, and knew that he was involved in this issue. I hoped my previous relationship with him would allow for honest and open communication. I sat down with Randy Juhl to find out what the University was or wasn’t doing in regards to transgender issues in regards to the recent press, which suggested that Pitt now required a birth certificate to use a restroom. I was aware of some things that had happened last Fall regarding a trans student at the UP Johnstown. I wanted to know what that episode had to do with anything, and most importantly, I wanted to know what could be done to move towards a policy that treats all trans students, staff, and faculty truly fairly.
I started by asking why Pitt had a policy that required trans students to use the restroom based upon the sex marked on their birth certificate, and everything ran from that. Since then, I have also had conversations with a number of other folks such at Peter Hart of the University Times, who have helped to add pieces of the history. The fact is that Pitt has no such policy. The only policy Pitt currently has in place is their official non-discrimination policy, which includes gender identity and expression. But in terms of practical day to day actions, no policy is in place that explains how to act in ways that are non-discriminatory. There have been standards applied by various parts of the University, but no uniformity across the University. For example, Housing had their standard for how to assist trans students, and HR had a standard for how to assist trans staff and faculty. So, officially, Pitt has no policy about birth certificates and bathrooms. But more about that in a minute.
About two years ago, the University Senate began to explore all of these issues, and a committee has been working on it. In this regard, the situation at the UP Johnstown wasn’t the instigation for a policy. Pitt’s administration wants a comprehensive policy to provide all parts of the University direction when working with trans persons.
The process for policy creation is both fairly mundane and a bit complicated, and I think one reason there has been so much confusion has been because those outside the University think that someone at the top just says that things will be one way or another way. But that isn’t how things are done. An issue is raised and the appropriate committee begins to work on it, and makes a resolution and then this is presented to the Faculty Senate and.. the process has more parts, but that’s enough for now.
The existing standards are best illustrated by looking at the ways different areas of the University handle things. For example, concerning student housing. There are rules about male and female students rooming together, but there was no policy regarding trans students. So when a situation arose, Housing used two units side by side and told the students who had requested to room together to sort out among themselves who was in each unit. This met the needs of the trans students well.
The episode at UP Johnstown did a few things to the process. First, it was the first time that the accommodations the University offered was not accepted as sufficient by the trans student. So the standards used didn’t suffice, and there was no policy to follow. Second, the situation painfully demonstrated how a lack of a policy left everyone in a difficult spot, and provided a face to a real problem. Trans issues is a conceptual idea to anyone who doesn’t know a trans person. The UP Johnstown situation brought everything into sharp focus.
So, how about the birth certificate claim, where did that come from? After the UP Johnstown situation happened, and the lack of policy was made more clear, the committee did what was a reasonable step, and asked General Counsel for an opinion. This is a pretty common action- if you don’t know, ask Legal for an opinion, and that is where the birth certificate requirement came from. Legal looked at the State’s requirements. In different states, there are different requirements and abilities for people, and if I understood correctly, in Pennsylvania, your sex is officially dictated by what shows on your birth certificate. I think legal departments always come down as conservative and risk-adverse as can be, so it isn’t a surprise to me that their opinion selects a highly conservative standard. As I understand it, while this was the opinion put forth from General Counsel, it is not now, a policy of the University, but it illustrates why having a real policy developed by the regular process is so critical. More on official sex status in another post, but here is a basic primer of the difference between sex and gender.
Back to that policy creation process I mentioned earlier. I think some people assume that policies happen because a person at the very top makes all the decisions and just hand them down as edicts for everyone to follow. That isn’t how it works, especially with a policy that could be deemed as controversial. In those cases, there is a desire to have as much consensus and buy in from students, staff, faculty, and the administration, et al. In this case, the administration wants to see a policy in place that treats all students, staff, and faculty, fairly, respectfully and trans-positive.
I won’t go into a description of what has happened surrounding the Senate’s Anti discriminatory Policies Committee and the more recently formed ad-hoc committee to look at the trans bathroom policy issue, but I refer you to Peter Hart’s writings in the University Times. I am under the impression that this ad-hoc committee is not yet fully formed and therefore hasn’t begun to meet.
- One of my next big tasks is to learn more about the ad-hoc committee and see what, if anything I can do to make sure that is has adequate representation of trans persons as well as students, staff, and faculty on it.
- Additionally, I will be meeting early in the week with leaders from Pittsburgh’s trans community, and will then be arranging a meeting with the Pitt Chancellor’s office, so that these individuals can meet with University Administration.