Feb. 22, 2011
A heartfelt thank you is in order. Thank you, University President Gamble. Thank you ASUAF President Nikki Carvajal. Thank you to all the students, staff and faculty who fought to include sexual orientation in the university non-discrimination policy. I would especially like to thank the eight members of the Board of Regents who voted to amend the policy: Regents Jacobson, Martin, Wickersham, Brady, Compton, Hughes, Marrs and the two newest regents Heckman and Powers.
There’s no doubt history was made in Anchorage during the February Board of Regents meeting. Nikki Carvajal, who was present in the room when the vote was made, said the room erupted in applause.
“I am glad this decision was made,” Carvajal said, “It’s about time.”
The final vote to amend was 8 to 2, and since no newspaper in Alaska will name names, I will. Regents Fisher and Cowell voted against protecting gay, lesbian and bisexual students, staff and faculty from discrimination on campus.
According to Carvajal, Regent Fisher called the proposed change “unconstitutional” and unnecessary. Regent Cowell, who is chair of the board, did not articulate his reasons but simply voted no. History will judge them both poorly.
To those who worked to make this amendment possible, I say again thanks.
Thanks, but it’s not enough.
After decades of struggle, the university has taken a sizable step into the 21st century. The thing about progress is that it never stops. Protecting sexual orientation is important, but where does that leave the “T” in “LGBT?” Despite what certain closed-minded individuals may say, being transgender is not a sexual orientation, it is a gender identity. The current wording of the non-discrimination policy makes no mention of gender identity.
This is not trivial stuff. Transgender people are much more likely to commit suicide. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center lists one study that found that more than 80 percent of transgender youth between 15 and 21 had suicidal thoughts and that more than 50 percent attempted suicide at least once. Transgender people are also disproportionately more likely to be the target of assault, rape or murder. This number stands out even compared to gays, lesbians and bisexuals who also face a higher chance of being assaulted.
When President Gamble swung his support behind amending the non-discrimination policy, he cited Congress’ decision to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of what helped him make up his mind. It’s telling that like the non-discrimination policy, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” does nothing to protect transgender men and women in the armed services. It becomes outright tragedy that members of the transgender community are frequently vilified or forgotten when it was the transgender community that largely started the modern LGBT rights movement. The Stonewall Riots of 1969, heavily credited as the birthplace of gay pride, were inspired by, and largely made up of, transgender women and so-called “butch” lesbians fighting back against police oppression.
Opponents of amending the non-discrimination policy, such as UAF Faculty Senate President Jon Dehn, said that if the policy is amended to include sexual orientation, it leaves the door open to further amendment. Doubtless, they will take my editorial as evidence of exactly that. Never mind that the slippery slope argument is a logical fallacy. When heavily scrutinized, that argument falls apart. There is documented evidence that transgender people are disproportionately the victims of violence and discrimination. That means they deserve to be protected, and that protection will be enshrined in the University of Alaska non-discrimination policy. A change in the policy will give transgender people at the university an avenue to address their grievances if they are targeted for discrimination. By giving transgender people a voice, the university could do its part to reduce the alienation that can contribute to suicidal thoughts. Voting to protect to a particularly vulnerable minority should not be an inconvenience for the regents.