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By Sharon Gittleman
YPSILANTI ,Aei Kevin Werner can walk across the Eastern Michigan University campus with his head held a little higher. EMU’s Board of Regents added a clause to its anti-discrimination policy protecting the dignity of individuals facing harassment because of their gender identity or expression.
While Werner hasn’t faced persecution from students or staff because of his status as a transgendered individual, he feels the regent’s action was important.
“Nobody’s bothered me whatsoever,” he said. “But, it’s a safeguard. It gives EMU a friendly appearance for the LGBT community as a whole.”
Werner, 26, completed his surgical transformation from a woman to a man in December 2006.
“I don’t have a day of regret,” he said.
He’s one of the few openly transgendered students on campus, Werner said.
While campus troubles may be rare for students like Werner, the policy change matters, said Kate Brindle, program coordinator for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center in Ypsilanti.
“One, I think it prevents discrimination and harassment. If they do it anyway, there’s something in place to punish them,” she said. “I also think it sends a message to our campus that we really do value all our students and won’t tolerate harassment.”
The resource center has been working to encourage regents to change the policy for several years, along with a number of campus groups, she said.
“We talk a lot about diversity,” said Brindle. “I think they realized to recognize diversity we need to be inclusive of all our campus community members.”
So far, no flak has been directed against those who approved the policy change, she said.
Rachel Crandall, co-founder and executive director of TransGender Michigan, said she couldn’t be happier to hear the news.
“I think all universities should do it,” she said. “I think it will help people so much.”
Crandall said her organization is working with other colleges to encourage them to take the same steps.
“I’m glad there are universities that are finally coming up to the plate,” she said.
Triangle Foundation spokesperson, Dawn Wolfe, described the move as a symbolic change.
“This was a no-brainer decision,” she said. “Including all people equally in anti-discrimination policies shouldn’t be a matter of controversy. It’s their responsibility to take that position.”
Wolfe said the Triangle Foundation threw its support behind the student organizations and activists who encouraged the regents’ decision to defend transgender people against discrimination.
“Having a policy like this will make it possible for people who have had those experiences to come forward,” she said.
Werner said many transgender people suffer from bias directed at them from gays, straights and even other transsexuals.
“There’s a hierarchy of passing in terms of are you seen as male if you were born female, or female if you were born male – how passable are you?” he said. “Most of the female to male transsexual or transgender people don’t get as much harassment as male to female do.”
Werner said he’s encountered anti-transgender feelings in the LGBT community. “I think its more an inner phobia they are dealing with. They’re not comfortable with who they are so they are picking apart something they are afraid of,” he said.
Gays and lesbians have become respectable in the public eye, he said.
“I think people have the sense that gay people are normal now,” said Werner. “‘T’ folks threatens that acceptance. It threatens the credibility of the larger gay community.”
Werner said he’s had an up-close look at how women are discounted in our society.
“When I was a girl, people tended to talk down to me and not really listen to what I had to say,” he said.
Many people don’t understand the compelling need transgender people feel to make their bodies conform with their internal sensibilities.
“By walking around in public and hearing people refer to you as one gender or another is what it comes down to for me,” he said. “When I would be called, ‘miss’ or ‘ma’am,’ it would send shivers down my spine like someone cut me in the back. When I got called, ‘sir’, it felt like I won the lottery.”
The EMU Board of Regents was contacted for comment but representatives did not return calls by the publication date.