Smith College Rejects Transgender Woman Application; More Challenges

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smith2_smBy: Lauren Walleser/TRT Reporter–

Protests continue after Smith College rejected the application of Calliope Mora Wong, a high school senior who was born male but now identifies as female, stating “undergraduate applicants to Smith must be female at the time of admission.” While Wong identifies as female, her Free Application for Federal Student Aid listed her gender marker as male, prompting the college’s decision to return her application.

“An application from a transgender student is treated no differently from other applications: every application Smith receives is considered on a case-by-case basis,” said Kristen Cole, Director of Media Relations at Smith College. “Like most women’s colleges, Smith expects that, to be eligible for review, a student’s application and supporting documentation will reflect her status as a woman.”

In order to have her gender marker legally changed, Wong would have to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

“It is totally inappropriate and ridiculous to expect a 17 or 18 year old to have had gender confirmation surgeries so that their documents all say that they are female,” said Genny Beemyn, Director of the UMass Stonewall Center. “Someone at that age typically cannot get access to surgery, even if their families can afford the huge cost. And many trans people do not want surgeries.”

Bet Power, Executive Director of the Sexual Minorities Educational Foundation, Inc., Curator of the Sexual Minorities Archives (SMA), and founder and facilitator of the East Coast FTM Group, said he believes Smith College should change its policy.

“It was totally at their discretion to either accept her or not, as Title IX was not a factor, as they argue it was,” said Power. “They are a private, not a public, college and under Title IX, they still could have admitted Ms. Wong, whose credentials clearly qualify her for their consideration and acceptance. Only public institutions are affected by Title IX regulations.”

While transgender women with a gender marker as male are not admitted to the university, transgender men with a female gender marker are admitted.  According to Cole, “Once admitted, any student who completes the college’s graduation requirements — regardless of gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation — will be awarded a Smith degree.” However, Power noted that transgender men who have not legally transitioned would still have an “F” on their transcripts, which could make finding a job difficult.

Power went on to explain why he thinks it is important for all LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and ally) people to speak out on these issues. [pullquote]“It is totally inappropriate and ridiculous to expect a 17 or 18 year old to have had gender confirmation surgeries so that their documents all say that they are female,” said Genny Beemyn, Director of the UMass Stonewall Center.[/pullquote]

“An all-women’s college that claims it is feminist must be pressed to change to include all women, including trans women,” he said. “Otherwise, it should not be considered a feminist institution nor a safe space for any woman. When one among us is barred access to education, any of us LGBTQIA people could be similarly oppressed. There is power in unity, both among women and among LGBTQIA people. I believe in, and work for through the SMA and through other community activism, the power in a united Rainbow community, especially when one of the communities under the Rainbow is attacked or denied equal rights or equal access in any walk of life.”

LGBT media advocacy organization GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) has also joined in the call for Smith to change its policy, along with more than 3,000 people who have signed a petition on Change.org, as well as students and activists who have posted on the Internet in response. The student group Smith Q&A has started a campaign for the inclusion of transgender women at Smith College and has been in continuous dialogue with college administration.

“For Calliope, I hope only that she finds a school where she can learn, grow, and have fun in a space where she feels safe and accepted—what I wish for all graduating high school seniors,” said Ellie Palmer, member of Smith Q&A. “At Smith, I hope that we can continue to have conversations with the administration and reach an agreement that means that trans women’s applications will be considered. Additionally I hope that with further education and conversation the student body will treat trans women with the respect and acceptance that they deserve.” [pullquote]While transgender women with a gender marker as male are not admitted to the university, transgender men with a female gender marker are admitted. [/pullquote]

Jesse Begenyi, Interim Director at Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, said their group is not directly involved in this issue, but they support Wong and will continue to serve as a resource for her and other trans women.

When asked whether Smith College is considering revising its admission policies regarding transgender applicants going forward, Cole stated “This is a complex and evolving issue and Smith is committed to continuing the conversation in the context of our mission as a women’s college.”

The Rainbow Times, via this reporter, tried to reach Calliope Mora Wong, but such efforts did not come to fruition.

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