George Mason University’s student senate passed a proposal to add gender identity and expression to the university’s anti-discrimination policy.
The proposal was one of the recommendations made by Mason’s LGBTQ Campus Climate Task Force. A final vote is still pending from student senate and the faculty senate will vote on the issue in February. Mason’s anti-discrimination policy does include sexual orientation, but the addition of gender identity and expression would protect those who identify as transgender.
“In order to create a more inclusive and accessible Mason, we must envision one that is open to all identities, cultures, backgrounds and expressions,” states the student government proposal.
In January 2014, Virginia Governor Terry McAullife signed an executive order including sexual orientation and gender identity to the Commonwealth’s anti-discrimination employment policy. Title IX, which protects people from sex discrimination in educational programs, was amended in April 2014 to include “transgender,” “gender identity” and “gender non-conforming.” President Barack Obama followed suit in July 2014 by issuing a new Executive Order to amend previous Executive Orders 11478 and 11246, changing federal employment policies to also prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“It’s not only timely with all the executive orders that are going through both the federal level and the state level,” says Mason Student Body Vice President Dilan Wickrema, “but also helps support one of our institutional values of freedom and learning which is one of my favorite parts of Mason.”
The university has hosted LGBTQ organizations since the 1970s and 80s, starting with an unrecognized student group called the Homophile group. LGBTQ resources have slowly evolved throughout the years with several groups advocating for LGBTQ issues such as Pride Alliance, TQ Mason and the Office of LGBTQ Resources. TQ Mason specifically provides resources for transgender people and non-binary, gender non-conforming and genderqueer students.
“It would also benefit all of us,” says Ric Chollar, director of LGBTQ Resources. “As we get better and better with flexible housing, all gender bathrooms, procedures for changing names and gender markers, training for faculty, staff and students, this opens doors to other marginalized groups and educates the larger population about the diversity that exists among us.”
The University of Virginia, William and Mary, Norfolk State University and James Madison University have all added gender identity to their policies. Virginia Tech is still waiting for approval from their Board of Visitors. Chollar says that even though Mason is not the first school to do this, they have made significant concrete progress such as gender neutral bathrooms and housing.
“Having this protection in Mason’s policy also sends a strong signal,” says Chollar, “which we currently don’t have, to prospective students, faculty and staff that they are welcome and safe here regardless of their gender identity or expression.”
Featured photo credit: Amy Rose