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by Sharon Gittleman
SPRING ARBOR – Julie Nemecek, 55, would like to keep her job as an associate professor of adult studies, teaching business and communications at Spring Arbor University.
The university wants her gone.
“Spring Arbor University has faced situations in the past where the actions of faculty members have been in direct conflict with the ideals we uphold,” writes a spokesperson for the University in a release sent to BTL. “While it is not our practice to discuss the details of personnel matters, we can confirm that Spring Arbor University has made the decision to not renew John Nemecek’s contract after the Spring semester.”
“John” Nemecek is Julie Nemecek, a transgendered woman.
“I have a diagnosis of gender identity disorder,” she said.
Nemecek first came to terms with her status in 2003, 15 years after she’d come to work for the university, which describes itself as an evangelical Christian institution.
She’d learned about GID, through her own research and from meetings with therapists, endocrinologists, her family physician and a Christian counselor, she said.
“My sense of self is entirely feminine,” she said. “Gender identity disorder is the sense of self conflicting with your body.”
Nemecek said scientific research has uncovered the genesis of GID. Everyone starts out in the womb as females. Sometime around the eight or 12th week, our bodies are washed with testosterone, transforming some fetuses into males.
“With people with gender identity disorder, the wash is not complete,” she said. “There’s a part of your brain connected with your sense of gender identity. For people with the disorder – that part of the brain matches the opposite birth sex.”
When Nemecek shared her condition with the university in late 2005, she said their initial response was positive. She said they advised her to “be careful what you do at work in the classroom.”
Then the restrictions became more aggressive, she said.
“They were, ‘don’t come to campus,’ ‘don’t talk to anybody about this,’ ‘see a Christian counselor,'” said Nemecek, an ordained Baptist minister and a member of a Presbyterian church. “They wanted me to teach online classes.”
The axe came down when she wore a Spring Arbor University T-shirt to the grocery store.
University officials told her she was violating a term of her contract by identifying herself as a Spring Arbor employee, she said.
Nemecek filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint.
At the end of December, the university informed her they’d decided not to renew her contract, which expired at the end of May, she said.
“Their position is because I have followed the medical advice – the hormones, I am in violation of some biblical standards,” she said.
According to the release sent by Spring Arbor to BTL, the university expects faculty members to model Christian character as an example for its students.
That mandate is a critical part of the fabric of Spring Arbor University, is clearly communicated to students, faculty and administrators alike, and is protected by the U.S. Civil Rights Act and supported by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, wrote the University spokesperson.
“We approach all situations like this with grace and in all cases work with the individual to give them the opportunity for restoration,” the spokesperson wrote. “However, if they choose to persist with activities that are inconsistent with the Christian faith, we have a responsibility to take further action.”
Nemecek is fighting to keep her job, with a mediation session between the parties scheduled for March 6.
She has a good case, said her attorney Randi Barnabee.
“I understand Spring Arbor may have some difficulty with the situation, but if they accept federal funds, they are subject to federal law,” she said. “Federal law says its illegal for an employer to discriminate against a person if that person fails to meet the employer’s sex stereotypes. That’s the way the law has been interpreted.”
Some Spring Arbor students recently organized a rally and a panel discussion to show their support for Nemecek.
Nemecek’s status isn’t a moral or religious failing; it’s a medical issue said rally organizer, Drew Hinkle, 21.
“Julie has been there for over 15 years. Her faith and values are the same,” he said. “She’s the same person religiously.”
Nemecek’s conflict with the university is a big issue for students and faculty, he said.
“We’re not trying to tear the school down,” he said. “We’re hoping to encourage the school to make the right choice.”
Nemecek said she was touched by the student’s efforts.
“I was very moved,” she said.
Many individual’s negative reaction to people with GID stems from ignorance of how the condition arises, said Nemecek.
“Part of it is they equate it with some kind of sexual perversion when it has nothing to do with sexual orientation or sexual gratification,” she said.
She hopes to hear good news when her mediation session is completed.
“Believe it or not I’d like to keep working there,” she said. “I enjoy what I’m doing and I’m good at it. I really like the Christian environment. I’d like to help them understand gender identity disorder more. If I ride out into the sunset, there’s no one left to talk to them.”