My day job- the way I pay the bills- is working at the University of Pittsburgh, which has recently raised an uproar concerning the use of bathrooms by Trans persons. I’ve received a number of emails/communications from activists and organizations outraged at the policy announcement. It places me in an odd place. I both want to be a supportive employee-supportive of my employer- and I must be a vocal critic of bad policy and an advocate for the fair treatment of all persons including Trans persons. An odd place, but not really a difficult one. My experience is that holding a position different from the University Administration has never caused me any problem in the past, and in fact, my differing viewpoint has always been welcomed.
Anyone who has been following the local news, knows that Pitt has been experiencing bomb threats to the extent that it is more like a terrorist attack, so the timing of this is a challenge. While the physical safety of all faculty, staff, and students continues to be threatened, may be a poor time to get anyone to be willing to talk about the bathroom policy. But it doesn’t hurt to begin to work on this. What I want to do on the blog here is document my actions regarding this. I may at some point write commentary about the policy, but my real interest is illustrating what I am doing, as both an employee as well as an activist/advocate towards this issue.
The University is a big entity, and there are a handful of different levels of authority that all play a role in decision making. In my experience, Pitt has sought to make student life welcoming to all students including Trans persons, yet this policy decision isn’t that surprising. The needs for Trans persons are not always well understood, and what are really needed are sometimes confused. I remember back to the push to get partnership benefits- Pitt can be a hard entity to push. Impossible to sway some might say, especially if Pitt feels pushed against a wall. Though most any organization or person is like that. My goal is to try and navigate through this and see what role I can play towards a win/win for all- the Trans persons accepted with Pitt as well as Pitt itself.
Action 1: Find out who I can talk to directly
My first action was to send an email off to a close friend in the Administration, who I know to be sensitive to the issues of LGBTQ persons. I have had a very long working relationship with this person, and I respect them in a huge way. In my email to them, I asked to be directed to the most appropriate person to speak to about this issue. My hope will be to include this person in my efforts, at least coming to a first meeting. This may not seem like much of an action, but in my opinion, getting to talk to the right people is always the first right step.
People and business entities make decisions based on facts and on their evaluation of the issues. When it comes to LGBTQ, that sometimes means, fear of the unknown plays a big role. I do not know what led to this decision, so my goal is to come to understand that.
Activists always want to get to the end result, and sometimes this gets portrayed as if Equality were a light switch that can go from off to on, just like that. What do we want, queer rights, and when do we want them- NOW! But the smart activists and advocates both push for change and make their demands known, and work behind the scenes to affect the process and create change. A person who makes a policy decision that appears homophobic, isn’t going to just change their mind because some activist told them to. The change will come with bringing real information to the issue and getting all parties to work together on a different perspective.
Action 2: The Staff Association Council
My second action was to email Deborah Walker who is president of the Staff Association Council. Because this policy affects Trans persons on the staff, SAC should have had a voice in the crafting of the policy, and it isn’t clear that happened. SAC has a Diversity and Inclusion committee, but that committee has not been meeting and has no chair or vice-chair. This could explain a lack of SAC involvement. SAC, to be a really useful entity must be advocating for all staff including LGBTQ staff, and the failure of the SAC to keep this committee active is troubling.
So, at this point I have 2 goals:
- Get a meeting with someone high level regarding the policy.
- Get the SAC to reform the Diversity and Inclusion committee and make sure it is a vocal advocate for all staff persons at Pitt.
I have one other path I want to start as well. In the Fall, there was a case concerning a Transgender student at a branch campus that I believe ended in court. Without knowing more details, I am wondering how this situation may have impacted or formed the recent policy announcement. I want to dig further into the details of that situation. It could provide much useful information.
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