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Harvard announced yesterday that it would amend its University-wide non-discrimination policy to protect “gender identity,” following growing pressure to safeguard the rights of transgender students and staff.
“Amending the non-discrimination policy to include gender identity is intended to reaffirm that all members of the Harvard community, including those who are transgendered, should be judged on their own merits, not their status,” said University spokesman Joe Wrinn.
Harvard joins 52 other universities, including Brown and Cornell, in amending its policy.
The decision was announced this afternoon to members of the Transgender Task Force (TTF)——a group of students, staff, faculty, and alumni who has advocated for the inclusion of gender identity since 1997——in a meeting with Robert W. Iuliano ’83, University vice president and general counsel.
According to students at that meeting, Iuliano said that the Corporation, the University’s highest governing board, had agreed to add gender identity to the non-discrimination policy at their last meeting, which was scheduled to be held on April 3.
Nearly 30 University and community groups co-sponsored an Undergraduate Council (UC) bill last Sunday urging the administration to include “gender identity and expression” in its non-discrimination policy.
“I think that it’s been the result of students’ hard work over the past nine years,” said UC representative Eric I. Kouskalis ’07, who sponsored the bill. “The Trans Task Force has really been working very hard behind the scenes.”
The University’s announcement only included gender identity, leaving out gender expression from the wording of the amended policy.
Gender expression is included under a combination of gender identity and freedom of speech and expression, Iuliano said according to students at yesterday’s meeting.
“[The University does] see protections of freedom of speech and expression as protecting gender expression in many respects,” Kouskalis said. “They will issue a statement in the coming weeks clarifying how gender expression is protected.”
Transgender supporters said it was important that transgender students have formal legal protection against discrimination.
“Discrimination of housing, bathroom use, locker rooms, any gender space is a reality for many transgender students,” said Harvard Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA) co-chair, Ryan A. Thoreson ’07, who is also a member of TTF. “The non-discrimination code goes about a way of addressing that kind of discrimination and violence on campus.”
But some TTF members say this change in the University’s non-discrimination policy doesn’t go far enough in creating a safe community for transgender students.
“I think it’s important to understand that including gender identity in the non-discrimination code is only a first step,” said TTF co-cordinator Noah E. Lewis, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School. “It’s a symbol of all the policy changes that Harvard will embark on in order to live up to its commitment to nondiscrimination of transgender and gender-variant students.”
—Staff writer Rachel L. Pollack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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