This month, Massachusetts voters reaffirmed that it is against the law to treat people unfairly, and unequally, because of their gender in places like restaurants, retail shops, hospitals, subways, libraries and parks. Yet, despite this outcome, members of the transgender and gender non-binary community remain in a position that many of them have known their entire lives, one of having to defend their most fundamental rights and civil liberties. This is a community that remains under threat, and we write to reaffirm University President Lawrence S. Bacow’s Oct. 30 position that Harvard remains committed to its policy of inclusion and non-discrimination, and that will not change.
On Oct. 21, news outlets reported that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was considering a narrowing of the current federal use of the term “sex” as either male or female, determined at birth, a change that could restrict the rights and protections currently available to those who identify as transgender and gender non-binary. It remains unclear if or when HHS may issue a change to current federal policy. However, one thing is certain: The existence of transgender and gender non-binary people is not hypothetical or abstract, nor should it be up for debate. Members of this community, at Harvard and beyond, have a right to live without fear, to be visible, and to thrive.
To this end, our non-discrimination policy includes protections on the basis of sex and gender identity, and we affirm and celebrate the diversity of gender identities and expressions represented in our community. Moreover, the University’s current Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy, first adopted in 2014, has consistently gone beyond federal Title IX guidelines. Broadly, we pledge to uphold the principles of inclusivity championed by Harvard’s Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, and its missive to “fully embrace individuals from varied backgrounds, cultures, races, identities, life experiences, perspectives, beliefs, and values.”
For those at Harvard who are feeling fearful, or called to act, or both, we want you to know there are resources here. Join Harvard’s Trans Task Force or one of the University’s other BGLTQ-related student organizations to spend time in community with others; we encourage you to reference this comprehensive list, published by the Title IX Office in partnership with the College Office of BGLTQ Student Life. Other local organizations which support the transgender and gender non-binary community include the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the Transgender Law Center, and the Transgender Health Program at Fenway Health.
As members of the Harvard University community, we have a unique opportunity to expand our impact. We hail from cities and towns all over the world, from disparate walks of life, and we come with unique needs and desires. But we know, and continue to learn every day, that our diversity is our strength. We must continue to embrace that, and each other, alongside our commitment to our values of inclusion and belonging.
Nicole M. Merhill is Harvard’s Title IX Officer. Sheehan D. Scarborough ’07 is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and Director of BGLTQ Student Life for Harvard College.
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