An article in today’s University Times details the current status of the discrimination complaint, brought by the Rainbow Alliance against the University of Pittsburgh.
The complaint, originally filed in April and amended in July, states that members of the University community, including some Rainbow Alliance members, are being harmed by the University’s policy and have suffered “emotional distress, anxiety, fear of bodily harm or violence and/or economic loss resulting from being denied a chosen dormitory or residence and being forced to live in more expensive University housing.”
Filing the complaint can be viewed as an extremely brave and powerful action, as well as one that brought any non-legal movement towards a successful resolution to a halt. Some of us remember how legal actions slowed the passage of domestic partnership benefits at Pitt many years ago. I remember that well. However this is a different time and one would hope that the University that was unable to put forward any offer that respected the committed relationships of the faculty and staff, would today, recognize the importance of valuing and treating the diversity of students, staff, faculty and guests at the University better. The “off the record” and “behind the scenes dialogues are much better and positive, but the outward actions by General Counsel seem just as unyielding today, as they were back then.
Before the complaint was filed, I personally hoped it wouldn’t be, and I had worked to find ways for progress without it. But the more I learned about why the Rainbow Alliance had made this choice, I could not be against it, and I have respected their decision all along. There is no one right way to do activism, and it is meaningful when a group of students stand up for what they believe is right. At the same time, I do not believe the real bottleneck at the University when it comes to a comprehensive transgender policy has been the administration. What I hope is that the administration, which wants to do the right thing (in my opinion) and the students who want the right thing are able to bypass some of the squabbling in the University Senate where action on a resolution failed to materialize. This conciliation period of the complaint process is a perfect opportunity for real progress to be made, even if more detailed work will have to be ironed out within a University committee.
Specifically, at issue is the requirement that a trans person must have a birth certificate to prove their sex to use the restroom of their preference. And this “bathroom” issue was the main focus of the Senate committee’s unsuccessful work. However, the Rainbow Alliance’s complaint helps place this one specific issue into the broader and real-world context, and highlights how the lack of a comprehensive policy fails to protect and respect students, staff, and faculty. Can the conciliation efforts lead closer to a comprehensive plan? Let’s hope so. No matter the outcome of conciliation, the outcomes to the whole issue is not right around the corner.
In the mean time, there is plenty of work that needs to be done. One of the reasons this seems so controversial is that most people don’t understand transgender or the issues trans persons face on a daily basis. As this article from the Montreal Gazette discusses:
An interesting observation by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in a blog post Oct. 1 about their meeting with the New York Times:
Says GLAAD: “Research shows that around three quarters of Americans personally know someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual, but less than 10% know someone who is transgender. This means that most Americans can weigh firsthand knowledge when considering media coverage that treats the LGB community insensitively. But the vast majority of Americans have no personal connection to someone who is trans, so they rely solely on the media for information.”
We have so much work to do simply by talking about trans issues and engaging trans persons to share their experiences so that the greater Pitt community can through these interactions come to their own understandings. Dignity, mutual respect, safety from harassment- these are issues that anyone can understand and so the more we can do to help educate about trans persons and fairness, we can be prepared to get back to work once the legal complaint is finished.