On Sept. 25, Refuge, Eastern’s student-led club committed to creating a safe and supportive environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students, published a petition entitled “Begin treating transgender students with dignity” on Change.org, a website dedicated to both petition starters and supports. The site is set up such that a visitor can start a petition for nearly anything (topics range from environmental to disabled persons rights) and/or support any petition featured.
Refuge’s petition argues that Eastern’s housing policy, where students are housed based upon their “anatomical sex” is discriminatory against transgender students, leaving them open to harassment, assault, or attempted suicide. According to the petition, Refuge hopes that transgender students will receive “safe and healthy housing like every other student,” demanding four things of the university:
1. Remove the definition of gender as “anatomical sex” in the residential supplement of the student handbook
2. Treat transgender students with the same amount of respect you give other students; stop requiring transgender students to show medical proof of their genitalia when no one else is ever asked to do the same; it is institutional sexual harassment.
3. Work with LGBTQ students to establish a housing policy where LGBTQ students can be safe and healthy.
4. Work with us to establish a fair and equitable means of changing one’s gender in University records.
Dash Barany and another member of Refuge, are explicit about their hopes for the petition’s effect on Eastern’s campus. Barany says, “[It] opens the door for students who didn’t think there was room for trans students at Eastern…the Human Sexuality Task Force is good to have but it doesn’t cover trans, we’re not having trans conversations.” Agreeing, another refuge member elaborates, “I’m hoping that the petition engages the entire campus in actual discussion, I want people to be able to acknowledge that this is actually a thing.” So far, the petition has garnered nearly 4,000 signatures and comments, many of which are from outside of Eastern’s community.
The petition was uploaded to Change.org at the same time that Kit Apostolacus, senior Biblical Studies major and co-president of Refuge, published an open letter to the university on her blog, joyfulabjection.wordpress.com. The letter is related to the petition, arguing for what the petition details but in length. Apostolacus outlines the goal of the letter, “I write this for myself, my transgender peers, and the ever-increasing number of transgender people who have committed suicide because Christians think we need to be fixed of our ‘perversions’.” As the petition does, Kit cites Eastern’s definition of sexual harassment (“a pattern exists of singling out members of one sex for disproportionate attention with elements of emotional or physical pressure”) in order to argue that EU “categorizing transgender women as ‘men’” is sexual harassment. At the end of the letter, Apostolacus points directly back to Refuge’s petition, calling the community to “begin waking up the world, by waking up ourselves.”
Responding to the petition, which was given to him along with the open letter by Apostolacus herself, Dr. Duffett comments, “I read [it], and most importantly to me, all the comments. I appreciate and support those in housing and student development who seek to make accommodations and try to make our transgender students welcome at EU. They are valued members of our Christian learning community.”
Dr. Bettie Ann Brigham, Vice President for Student Development, was not presented with either the petition or the open letter. When asked to comment on the petition itself, Dr. Brigham outlines the procedure for attending to the housing needs of transgender students: “In the case of students presenting themselves where they don’t fit the male/female binary, we talk individually with them to see what they think would be satisfactory or acceptable to them, and we also have to keep in mind the sensibilities of the rest of the community.”
As of yet, there has been no response from Eastern regarding the specific policy requests of Refuge’s petition.