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December 8, 2011

Transgender student, UPJ officials at odds over locker-room use

A transgendered student at Pitt-Johnstown who identifies as male plans to sue campus officials over what he says is discrimination, harassment and retaliation for complaints.

At a Dec. 2 student code of conduct hearing, junior Seamus Johnston was found guilty of three violations: exhibiting disorderly, lewd or indecent behavior; failing to comply with lawful directions of a University official, and entering University facilities without authorization.

The administrative hearing officer ruled that sanctions for Johnston, subject to final approval, will be: disciplinary probation through December 2012; denial of  access to all male facilities on the campus, and a counseling assessment by a private practice counselor before Jan. 15, 2012. Final sanctions are expected to be announced Dec. 9.

Johnston said he plans to appeal the ruling.

Last month, Johnston was barred from the UPJ Sports Center for violating citations prohibiting his use of the men’s locker room. He had been using the men’s locker facilities in connection with a weight training course he is taking. Johnston took the same course during a previous semester without incident, he said.

But on Sept. 19, Johnston said campus officials told him that he could no longer use the men’s locker room due to complaints from other students. He said he agreed temporarily to use a room at the Sports Center normally reserved for referees while he explored University policies to have his gender changed on Pitt records.

But Johnston said he soon discovered how difficult that change would be. He was told that since he identified as female at the time he was admitted to UPJ, Pitt required an amended birth certificate from the Pennsylvania Division of Vital Records or a court order to change his gender on school records. Johnston pointed out that the University did not require incoming students to provide proof of gender and further noted that obtaining an amended birth certificate is impossible for many transsexuals and that such a stipulation violates Pitt’s nondiscrimination policy.

In an Oct. 24 letter to UPJ President Jem Spectar, Johnston indicated he planned to resume using the men’s locker room and that the “separate but equal” locker room facilities were not satisfactory. He also informed Spectar he planned to initiate legal proceedings against campus officials for discrimination. In a series of correspondence with campus administrators this fall, Johnston alleged his civil rights have been abridged under both federal and state laws, as well as campus student code of conduct and University nondiscrimination policies.

Johnston told the University Times that between Oct. 24 and Nov. 14 he used the men’s locker room seven times without incident.

However, on Nov. 16 campus security officials informed Johnston of campus judicial proceedings against him and issued a citation barring him from the men’s locker room. A second, similar citation was issued Nov. 21. Both citations claimed that Johnston is female and threatened him with arrest for defiant trespass.

On Nov. 28, campus police officers arrested Johnston for ignoring the earlier citations. The following day he was ordered to attend the Dec. 2 student code of conduct hearing to address the charges against him.

Following Johnston’s arrest, UPJ campus security filed a non-traffic disorderly conduct citation with the district magistrate naming Johnston as the defendant. A hearing in the matter is scheduled for Dec. 21 with Max F. Pavlovich, a magisterial district judge in Cambria County.

In a prepared statement, Johnstown campus spokesperson Robert Knipple said, “The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown is committed to ensuring appropriate access to all its facilities by all students as required by law. We address issues of access in a manner that meets the rights, needs and  concerns of all our students. Moreover, the University has in place a process for handling and resolving complaints and that process is available for all students, faculty and staff.”

Knipple continued, “When we became aware of the situation, we identified a locker room that had been used by officials during games. The unisex facility has a single shower and can be locked from the inside to ensure privacy. This facility is available for use by any student, faculty or staff who desires privacy.”

Citing potential legal proceedings, Knipple told the University Times the UPJ administration would have no additional comment.

Johnston said he has initiated the filing of criminal charges against Pitt officials with the Cambria County district attorney’s office.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 44 Issue 8

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