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December 8, 2011

Senate anti-discriminatory committee looks at transgender issues

A University Senate committee charged with investigating claims of discrimination at Pitt has been working on issues affecting Pitt’s transgendered population.

At last week’s Faculty Assembly meeting, Jane Feuer, chair of the anti-discriminatory policies committee, noted that the University’s nondiscrimination policy forbids discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression as well as sexual orientation. (See Sept. 25, 2008, University Times.)

Feuer said her committee has examined what she termed “very complicated issues”: potential discrimination of transgendered individuals in Pitt’s health care benefits coverage and in the on-campus student housing policy. Her committee and its gender discrimination initiatives subcommittee are preparing a report on the subject jointly with the Senate benefits and welfare committee, she said. The report is expected to be discussed at Faculty Assembly in the spring term.

“We’re talking about a very small number of people at this point in time. We don’t know how many. It’s the kind of thing you can’t count because it’s invisible. But if even one person is discriminated against, that’s a concern. Our committee typically deals with minority issues. This is a very small but crucial minority, because the issues that are raised are really central to the whole concept of gender in our society,” Feuer said.

“We spent a long time studying what we’re now calling the transsexual health care exclusion from our health benefits,” she said. “We determined that the language in the health coverage certificate rider is in violation of the University’s policy of avoiding discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.”

Pitt’s health care benefits currently exclude coverage of “transsexual surgery and any treatment directly related to the preparation for or correction of such surgery,” even when such surgery is prescribed by a physician, Feuer noted.

The anti-discriminatory policies committee also is examining issues related to on-campus housing for transgendered students.

According to the Nov. 28 Pitt News, a transgendered Pitt student is claiming housing discrimination.

Feuer said, “This student was handled in a way that we’ve come to learn is typical of the way these cases are handled: That is, the transgendered student is given the opportunity to live in a single room or is in other ways isolated. I’ve also just heard of a related issue at the Johnstown campus. Apparently, there’s been a complaint filed about showers, and this student was given the opportunity to shower alone. (See related story this issue.) These students are not happy; they feel they’re being discriminated against.”

Her committee discovered that the on-campus housing application “allows for only male and female as a way of identifying oneself in terms of gender and sexuality. Therefore, transgendered students have been told either to go where their biological gender is or they’ve been offered isolated accommodations,” Feuer said.

The anti-discriminatory policies committee has been studying alternatives by looking at the policies at other universities and in businesses. “We’ve not talked about alternatives to housing arrangements. We’re talking about the language on housing and other applications. That’s as far as we’ve gotten. We’re not at the stage yet to make any recommendations,” Feuer said.

Following Feuer’s report, Senate secretary Linda Rose Frank commented: “I want to echo what you said. There is a transgender continuum, from someone who cross-dresses on the weekend to someone who has sexual-reassignment surgery and everything in between. So I agree, it’s very, very complicated.”

Assembly member Cindy Tananis added: “This also goes to the issue of what the University wants to represent in terms of a culture. I would want to be known as a university that’s inclusive.”

At the Nov. 29 meeting, Assembly also heard a report from Senate athletics committee chair Lou Fabian, who reviewed the reasons Pitt is changing its athletic conference affiliation from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast conference. (See Sept. 29 University Times.)

The University decided on the switch to maintain membership in a major college football program conference; the Big East is likely to lose its automatic bid in the Bowl Championship Series, or to disband entirely, Fabian explained. Other reasons include an increase in conference membership revenue from TV contracts and other sources, and comparable away-game travel distances, he said.

Fabian referred Assembly members to the Senate Matters column, published in the Nov. 10 University Times, for information on the athletics committee mission; new National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regulations, and Pitt’s results in the most recent NCAA “report card,” which measures retention and graduation rates of student-athletes. (Also see June 9 University Times.)

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 44 Issue 8

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