By Dawn Wolfe
Faced with activists at their regents’ meeting and GEO negotiators at the bargaining table, the University of Michigan may be on the cusp of providing necessary protections to some of the transgender and gender-non-conforming members of the university community.
On Feb. 17, six activists addressed the University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting to ask that the regents change the university’s non-discrimination bylaws to include sexual identity and expression, according to Denise Brogan, co-founder of Transforum, an organization for trans students, faculty and alumni.
“I don’t think they will be moved to action on the strength of this single presentation, but I do think we caught their attention,” said Brogan. Among the activists who addressed the regents were three trans allies, including a UofM alumna who had been accosted by a group of young males who threatened to show her “what it meant to be a real woman,” according to Brogan.
As for Brogan, she had harsh words for the regents when her time came to speak. “OSU (Ohio State University) not only beat us on the football field this year, they’ve beat us in providing this basic protection,” she said.
The next day, Feb. 18, negotiators for the Graduate Employees’ Organization came one step closer to winning protection against discrimination based on gender identity and expression – at least for graduate employees of UofM.
Andre Wilson, lead negotiator for the GEO team, said of the Feb. 18 talks, “They have accepted gender identity in our non-discrimination clause, which they had previously refused. They didn’t give us gender expression.”
As reported in the Feb. 6 issue of Between The Lines, the GEO and the university have been deadlocked on a number of issues, among them the non-discrimination clause and provision of health care coverage for transition-related health care.
There was no movement at the table on Feb. 18 regarding the health care issues. Wilson said that the GEO offered a counter-proposal on health care on Feb. 18 which will be discussed during talks on Feb. 22.
UofM spokesperson Julie Peterson said that the university changed its position on gender identity because it had to by law.
“There was a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals case (Smith v City of Salem, 2004) in which the court ruled that the existing protections regarding sex discrimination also encompassed gender identity,” Peterson said. “We are bound by that decision.”
“We did not offer the gender expression language [on Feb. 18], but I don’t expect that gender expression will be a major sticking point,” she added.
If the GEO negotiating team comes to an agreement with the university on protections for gender-deviant graduate employees, perhaps the UofM Board of Regents will be moved to extend those protections to all members of the university community. This is what happened in the 1970s, when GEO won protections for gay and lesbian employees before such protections were part of the UofM bylaws.
Contact the President of U of M, who is also an ex-officio member of the Board of Regents, and the rest of the board and tell them why it is so important to extend gender identity and expression protection to the entire university community.
Mary Sue Coleman
President, University of Michigan
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