Matt Hill Comer at InterstateQ describes the situation in an exclusive interview with Kourt Osborne, who has recently been denied any campus housing at the public Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah.
“During our conversation,” Kourt said, “he told me that a sociology professor on campus believed I was ‘not truly a transsexual’ because I do not seek sexual reassignment surgery.”
Kourt said the university will only allow him housing in male residence halls after he provides:
- a letter from the doctor that monitors his hormone treatment;
- a letter from his therapist saying that he has gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria; and
- official documentation that he has had sexual reassignment surgery.
Kourt had already provided the housing department with a letter from a doctor who monitors his hormone treatment. For personal reasons, Kourt does not seek to be diagnosed with “gender identity disorder” and does not want to seek sexual reassignment surgery.
He said that if he did not present the three items requested by the university, then he would not be allowed to live in male housing. At the same time, the university has denied housing for him in female housing, as well.
At this time, Kourt is not allowed to live in any part of the public university’s campus housing. He is currently considering his options and how to proceed with the issue.
It seems to me that the university is being duplicitous in its attempt to make up policy on the fly here. Is the issue that Kourt hasn’t had gender reassignment surgery, or that he doesn’t want it? The unnamed sociology professor appears to advocate the latter, the housing department the former. While the grounds for refusing Kourt housing in accordance with his gender identity remain ambiguous, however, the refusal to allow him housing in female dormitories seems completely baseless given the way the University is defining gender.
And that raises the key question: Just how is SUU defining gender? Though SUU does not post faculty biographies on its website, a look at the four faculty members who make up the sociology department leads one to guess it was either Dr. Andrew Bamford (who offers courses titled “Social Psychology” and “Body and Society”) or Dr. Shobha Gurung (whose course offerings are not listed but “will focus on courses in race, ethnicity and gender” according to a departmental newsletter). Dr. Gurung received her PhD from Northwestern University; her dissertation was entitled, “Women in Factory-Based and Home-Based Carpet Production in Nepal: Beyond the Formal and Informal Economy.” Searches of the EBSCO Research Database, JSTOR, and Sociological Abstracts at CSA Illumina turned up only this dissertation. Google Scholar adds a presentation at the 2006 meeting of the American Sociological Association entitled, “The Factory World: The Intersection of Gender, Caste, Class, Ethnicity, and Kinship.” SAGE Journals Online adds reference to reviews in the journal Gender & Society.
SUU is apparently satisfied that the opinion of one of these professors on matters relating to transgender identity is a sufficient basis upon which to craft policy. It seems to me, though, more like a “first draft equals final copy” approach to a very complex matter. An academic institution should know better.
Here’s some advice to SUU, provided free of charge by a girl who’s getting her masters degree today.
- Do your research. Be thorough. Take your time. The idea isn’t to get something turned in, it’s to make absolutely certain that what you’re turning in is your best work.
- Check your sources. It might be good idea to use more than one. And if you begin your research having already formed an opinion on the matter, you should probably check out a few sources that disagree, just to make sure you’re doing well-rounded research.
- Follow the rules. If the syllabus requires MLA, use MLA. If your nondiscrimination policy includes sex (which it does) and sexual orientation (which it doesn’t, but should), make sure you know what those terms imply in 2007.
- Clarify your argument. Is a transsexual someone who wants SRS, or someone who’s had SRS? Consistency is the key to writing a good essay; it’s also the key to drafting good policy.
- Think through the logical implications of your argument. If you’re making policy based on a pathological understanding of the trans experience (i.e. that trans people have Gender Identity Disorder), then by denying someone housing, aren’t you potentially violating your policy not to discriminate based on disability? (See, this is why you have to take your time.)
- Finally, if you need help, ask for it. You might start with the Educational Equity Section of the Utah State Office of Education. Equality Utah might have something to offer, too. Or how about the National Student Genderblind Campaign?