Supporting Trans Students On and Off Campus

The United States is “not experiencing the best of times,” as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. In the past few days alone, militarized police raided the main protest camp at Standing Rock and anti-immigration sentiments erupted. In one of many cases, an off-duty police officer fired a handgun at a Latino 13-year-old. This week has been terrifying for many of us.

With this in mind, we’d like to use this space in TSL to address the Trump administration’s most recent violation of LGBTQ student rights. Yesterday, the Department of Justice revoked the Obama administration’s legal guidance to public schools on allowing students to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. The decision shows a complete reversal of the president’s “promise” to protect LGBT rights. (Add it to the list of the failed promises by this administration so early on.)

On the surface, this backpedaling shows a complete lack of respect for the basic needs of trans students. But the bathroom debate is just one small part of a larger movement to systematically strip away protections for trans folks, a group of people who are already subject to some of the highest rates of violence and murder of anyone.

When you deny trans students access to a bathroom, you tell them they don’t belong, that their identities don’t matter. Even at Pitzer College, where gender neutral bathrooms were added last year after a resolution from the Pitzer Student Senate, there’s still plenty of work to be done. This Thursday, Pitzer President Melvin Oliver affirmed the school's support of trans students and reiterated California's legal protections for trans people. At the same time, Oliver used the email to laud the school's progressive record.

“At Pitzer, we were early adopters of gender-inclusive housing and bathroom options, as well as transition-related mental health, and medical services," he wrote.

But Pitzer, like all the Claremont colleges, has much room to improve regarding trans support. Nat Bentley PZ ‘18, a transgender male student, wrote a student-wide email in response to Oliver's remarks. He outlined the persistent shortcomings of the institution, particularly how the gender neutral bathrooms largely replaced women’s bathrooms, setting up “a juxtaposition (which) connotes that trans people (men, women, genderqueer, agender, etc.) should be clumped with cisgender women.”

Furthermore, Bentley’s email pointed out that many of the forms Pitzer students are required to fill out — for the registrar, housing, or admissions — enforce a difference between men/women and transmen/transwomen.

“Am I not a 'real' male because I am transgender?” he wrote.

As we've written before, maintaining a sharp local focus is crucial for making real differences for real people. White House policies affect people locally and personally. This week's policy reversal will largely affect students at public schools, but we can't overlook our own campus policies. We need to hold ourselves and our institutional leaders accountable for supporting trans and nonbinary people who are our friends, roommates, classmates, instructors, and staff.