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June 13, 2013

Transgender former UPJ student pleads guilty to reduced charges

A transgender former Pitt-Johnstown student has pleaded guilty in Cambria County court to reduced charges related to his refusal to stop using men’s locker room facilities on campus.

Seamus Johnston pleaded guilty May 30 to summary offenses of defiant trespass and disorderly conduct and was sentenced by Judge Patrick Kiniry to six months’ probation plus fines and fees totaling $150.

Johnston was expelled following a January 2012 UPJ judicial conduct hearing in which he was found guilty of exhibiting disorderly, lewd or indecent behavior; failing to comply with lawful directions of a University official, and entering University facilities without authorization.

Johnston, who was born female but identifies as male, was a junior in fall 2011 when UPJ police charged him with indecent exposure, defiant trespass and disorderly conduct, all misdemeanors, in connection with his use of the men’s locker room on campus.

Johnston had been using the men’s locker room at the UPJ Sports Center in connection with a weight training class. He was banned from the men’s facilities by campus officials in response to complaints by other students and given the option to use separate unisex facilities normally reserved for referees.

The University has required individuals to use the facilities that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate. (See April 5, 2012, University Times.)

Questions have arisen as to whether the practice violates the University’s nondiscrimination policy (Policy 07-01-03), which in accord with the city of Pittsburgh’s nondiscrimination ordinance, prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression.

The issue has prompted a pair of discrimination complaints  —one by Johnston, another by Pitt’s Rainbow Alliance student group (which describes itself as providing for the concerns and interests of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer and allied community on campus)  — to the city’s Commission on Human Relations. (See May 3, 2012, University Times.)

Johnston claimed that the University violated the city ordinance against discrimination on the basis of sex and handicap. While Johnston argued that the city commission had jurisdiction because the alleged harm resulted from policies that were set in Pittsburgh, the commission agreed with the University’s stance that the alleged harm occurred in Johnstown, placing the complaint outside the commission’s jurisdiction.

The commission dismissed Johnston’s complaint last October. The Rainbow Alliance’s concerns remain before the commission, which continues to attempt to bring about conciliation.

A University Senate plan to convene an ad hoc committee to examine policies and procedures affecting transgender individuals has been put on hold pending resolution of both complaints. (See May 17, 2012, University Times.)

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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