Nyemike Okonkwo
Mercury Staff
UTD L.E.A.P.
Courtesy

SG installs neutral bathroom signage, members of UTD LGBT community respond to national policies

Student Government joined with a committee on campus to construct an initiative to update restroom signage across campus to be more inclusive of transgender needs.

The UTD LGBTQ Education, Advocacy and Programming Committee helped SG with the signage updates, which are expected to be completed by the end of the summer.

Student Government Senator Grant Branam was integral in the drafting of the initiative and encouraged the development of signage designed to service a wide variety of students.

“The ultimate goal is to be inclusive to all students,” Branam said. “If transgender students do not feel comfortable using the communal restrooms on campus, the singular space is safer. They can go there without the fear of judgment or harassment.”

UTD’s efforts to include more gender-neutral signage fits into the current national discussion over transgender rights.

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On May 13, the Obama administration issued guidance to public schools across the nation outlining policies that allow transgender students to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.  The Department of Justice and the Department of Education issued a joint letter to public schools reflecting the President’s stance saying, “transgender students enjoy a supportive and nondiscriminatory school environment.”

Although the president’s guidelines do not carry the full force of law, Cody Kuhn, Rainbow Guard’s vice president, views the action as a positive. 

“It’s definitely a step forward,” he said.  “It’s definitely a significant document that legislatures will point to in the future while making policy about trans bathroom use.”

Additionally, the Obama administration has threatened to withhold funding for public schools if the state does not abide with the directives. 

“If you’re going to use federal money, you have to follow federal policy,” Kuhn said.

The actions of the executive branch have caused uproar in many states, including Texas. On May 9, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick recently called for the resignation of Fort Worth ISD superintendent Kent Scribner for proposing policies more inclusive of transgender students, arguing that the policies were created unilaterally and lack transparency.  Because there were no public hearings, forums or meetings with parents during the formation of those guidelines, segments of Fort Worth residents strongly criticized Scribner’s policy. 

“Even if the majority of the community doesn’t want (transgender bathroom equality), trans students are being hurt,” Kuhn said about community involvement on transgender rights.

On May 17, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted that Texas will sue the federal government to “stop Obama’s transgender directive to schools,” and challenge how President Obama is “trampling” on the Constitution. 

“This is the same type of cultural resentment and bigotry that’s been present since this nation was founded,” Adam Richards, Wesley at UTD president, said about the governor’s comments. “It is something people haven’t really thought about and don’t really understand and are having a knee jerk reaction to it in this cultural moment.”

Richards said transgender people have been using the restroom of their choice long before the debate gained attention, and since the LGBT community receives the majority of its support from the political left, he said this is an opportunity for the political right to raise the party platform.   

“This is a solution in search of a problem based upon irrational fears because this is some poll-tested thing that (raises) GOP voter turnout,” Richards said.