UMass System extends protection to Gender Identity and Expression

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April 7, 2011
By: Tynan Power/TRT Reporter
On February 23rd, the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Board of Trustees voted to include “gender identity or expression” in the University’s Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity policy. The system-wide policy change came soon after Governor Deval Patrick’s February 17th Executive Order prohibiting discrimination of transgender state employees. The new University policy covers students as well as employees.

Genny Beemyn, director of the UMass Amherst Stonewall Center, was told by the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition that the Governor’s executive order covered employees at state universities; however, having a non-discrimination policy for the University added security.

“Because this is an Executive Order, if we get a Republican governor in office, it can be repealed,” Beemyn said. “I don’t particularly see that some evil administrator could come along at UMass and yank the policy. I think that it would be too politically dangerous for someone to do something like that.”

The non-discrimination policy at UMass, Amherst was revised in 2009 to include gender identity and expression. Beemyn’s efforts helped bring about that change and Beemyn believes it paved the way for the Trustees’ decision.

“I’m sure that it helped that the largest campus had already [changed its policy],” Beemyn said. “There was no reason the other campuses in the system wouldn’t follow suit.”

“A number of surrounding public higher education institutions already use that language. We put it out there that they had it in, so should we,” said Marie Hedrick, an undergraduate student and president of the UMass Boston chapter of Massachusetts Students Uniting.

Even with that persuasive argument and the model of UMass Amherst, the change didn’t happen overnight.

“We started working on [the policy change] last year,” Hedrick said. “The [policy] language didn’t go through as fast as we wanted, but it did go through so we’re very happy with that.”

Students at UMass Boston played a key role in bringing the need for a change to the attention of the Board of Trustees, according to Hedrick.

“A group of undergraduate students from UMass Boston called the LGBTQ Equality Coalition gathered student signatures saying that we wanted gender included,” said Hedrick. “We went over to the Labor Resource Center on campus and [LRC Director] Susan Moir signed one of the people working there to work with us on the project. All together we came up with five different documents that the University currently has for an anti-discrimination clause or equivalent. Some of them we found were just horribly outdated. They hadn’t been updated in a long time. So as well as including gender, there were some other things that needed to be updated. We went to the Equal Opportunity Director at UMass Boston, with a couple of trans students. We pointed out that the policies were outdated and that we specifically were interested in gender and gender expression being included. Then the two students were also able to add personal stories about why that specifically was so important in their experience at UMass Boston, inside and outside of the classroom.”

Other campuses can look to UMass Amherst to see what impact they can expect from the new system-wide policy. Beemyn believes the 2009 change at UMass Amherst has helped make that campus more welcoming of transgender students and staff.

“It certainly has assisted us, in terms of being listened to a bit more when we say that that policies or practices need to be changed to be more trans-supportive and trans-inclusive. Now, when I can point to the discrimination policy, I think it bolsters our case.”