George Fox University Denies Housing to Transgender Student and It's Not Okay
When the Hobby Lobby ruling went public, millions across the U.S. shook their heads in consternation. After all, it implied some pretty scary stuff about whether religious beliefs are grounds for certain kinds of exemptions, like companies neglecting to provide birth control coverage for their employees. Now, a similarly themed debacle at a Christian college campus will have you repeatedly slamming your head into your desk. George Fox University has successfully applied for an exemption from Title IX so that it can deny on-campus housing to a transgender student.
Jayce M., a transgender student who was attempting to live on-campus in order to room with male friends, had his housing application rejected. So, too, were his repeated appeals to the school, which is a Quaker institution. However, when Jayce's lawyer filed a Title IX discrimination suit with the U.S. Department of Education, they found out that GFU had been doing some legal legwork as well — to the tune of requesting an exemption from Title IX on religious grounds.
"George Fox University (GFU), without telling us, requested a religious exemption to the Title IX regulations regarding housing, restrooms and athletics as they apply to transgender students,” said Paul Southwick, Jayce's lawyer.
"Based on the exemption, the ED [Education Department] closed Jayce’s complaint. The ED did all of this without telling us anything about the exemption request, despite my repeated calls and emails for information and status updates."
In case anyone is (understandably) confused about why this would fall under the purview of Title IX, here's a little background. Although it often comes up in discussions about women's athletics, Title IX is a much broader piece of legislature. Here's what it says:
"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
Therefore, the Education Department's decision to grant GFU an exemption means that they can, in fact, exclude and/or discriminate against students on the basis of sex.
Jayce's mother, Janice, has created a petition on Change.org in order to ask GFU to reverse its decision. The petition already has over 21,000 supporters. In the body of the petition, Janice writes that Jayce has already transitioned, that he is working to reflect the gender he identifies with on legal documents like his driver's license, and that his friends have no problem living with him. My question: If Jayce, his family, and his friends are all cool with this living situation, then why does the university have to get all up in their grill?
In addition, GFU's policy seems to me to blatantly go against Quaker ideology. After all, a major part of Quaker faith is treating every individual equally, regardless of gender and/or background. (Here's a pamphlet from the Friends General Conference if you want to know more about Quaker beliefs.) In its request for exemption, the university wrote that it “cannot in good conscience support or encourage an individual to live in conflict with biblical principles.” However, local pastors have vocally declared their support for Jayce on Quaker grounds. "As Quakers, the biblical teaching that men and women are created in the image of God convicts us that 'all persons have equal value and are created in the image of God,'" wrote Dr. C. Wess Daniels and Mike Huber, two Quaker pastors.
Throughout the entire experience, Jayce has remained eloquent and steadfast. "I'm shocked and disappointed...but I'm not giving up," he said.
For more info about trans* discrimination, I recommend reading Kat Hache's article about why jokes about trans* people aren't funny.