Using the media to advance transgender equality


Celebrity and former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner’s supposed upcoming gender change has been in the tabloids for weeks. Much of the controversy stems from the fact that many feel that a sex change should be a private affair.

Because Jenner has not released any public comments on the matter at this time, I, and others, believe that the decision to alter his gender should be left out of the tabloids for the time being. Still, right now, there is a rare, national spotlight on transgender issues and equality. I believe that we should use this moment to advocate for transgender equality and work toward a totally and completely inclusive campus.

According to the American Psychological Association, transgender refers to “persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.” Even with increasing awareness, transgender equality remains pertinent in regards to our campus and every campus in this country.

Approximately one-third of students who identify as transgender reported being harassed during college in 2010. In addition, about 45 percent of people who are transgender between the ages of 18 and 24 have attempted suicide.

As both of those statistics are shockingly high, it is the responsibility of colleges to make campuses as welcoming as possible for students who do identify as transgender.

Appropriately, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees passed a resolution to cover gender reassignment surgery in student health insurance last March. This was, no question, a victory that moved toward transgender equality that I would never want to diminish.

This component of the insurance plan now allows for students who identify as transgender to physically change their sex.

Further, we have established campus resources such as the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans Resource center and the Campus Union for Transgender Equality and Support, a student group, to educate and advocate for transgender equality on campus.

However, Stephanie Skora, senior in LAS and President of CUT*ES argues that these strides made by the University were only made after immense prompting by transgender student groups and the LGBT Center, and that there is still much to be done.

We can now use the intense national interest surrounding Jenner’s story to lend relevance to transgender issues on our campus.

Skora advocates for transgender issues on campus to be taken more seriously.

“The reason that we don’t have a preferred name system at UIUC, the reason that we don’t have all-gender housing, and the reason that the all-gender bathroom project has been taking so long, even though a lot of people have invested a lot of time and energy into it, is because these things aren’t seen as a priority by the University,” Skora said in an email to me.

Although there are some gender inclusive bathrooms across campus in various academic buildings, there are none yet in the residence halls.

Allen Hall recently sent out a survey to residents asking their opinions about a pilot program for a gender inclusive bathroom. However, because of too little interest, the program has not gotten off the ground.

Jesus Monroy, a sophomore in DGS expressed disappointment in the lack of interest.

“The introduction of a gender inclusive [bathroom] is something that would be really amazing to happen in residence halls,” Monroy said in an email. “For a lot of people they don’t see the big deal of having a gender inclusive bathroom … But for those students who are transgender, intersexed, fluid, neutral or choose to not identify this is a really big deal.”

Indeed, the atmosphere that gender segregated bathrooms create can be intimidating and even dangerous for people who are gender non-conforming.

Gathering interest about an Allen Hall potential pilot program was an important step forward in making our campus as gender inclusive as possible.

By all means, we shouldn’t stop pushing.

Universities across the county are looking to break out of the rigid male and female categories that dominate their campuses.

Ithaca University has gender inclusive housing options. The University of Michigan allows students to change their name on all school records. And both Northwestern and Illinois State recently implemented gender inclusive bathrooms on their campuses.

We need to continue moving forward with transgender equality as well.

Our society loves binaries, and we love to categorize: young or old, democrat or republican and then there is male or female.

But these binaries make no allowances for any sort of non-fixed gender spectrum, and we should therefore aim to avoid them.

With this public focus on transgender issues, we should heed this opportunity and advocate for transgender rights across the country and at our campus. While Bruce Jenner shouldn’t be the focus of the conversation, the stories surrounding him can serve as a vehicle with which to approach these inequalities.

Alex is a junior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected]