Higher education has increasingly become an environment where resources like gender-neutral housing, campus maps of gender-neutral bathrooms, and “safe space” training programs allow young people to explore their gender and sexuality in safe and healthy ways. The University of Pittsburgh, however, took a defiant step in the opposite direction, dictating last month that transgender students could only use bathrooms and lockerrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate, as explained recently by university spokesperson Robert Hill:
HILL: As this [policy] applies to use of facilities, a female who identifies as a male, or a male who identifies as a female, may use restrooms or locker rooms of his or her declared gender identity after he or she has obtained a birth certificate designating the declared gender. This practice applies to student athletes as well.
The only way that most states — including Pennsylvania — allow for birth certificate changes is if individuals undergo sexual reassignment surgery (SRS), a costly life-changing procedure that many trans people never intend to pursue. Some states do not offer new or amended birth certificates under any circumstance. And as Pitt junior Alice Haas has pointed out in her outspoken opposition to the policy, SRS amounts to “forced castration” because it results in sterility. For the university to impose such expectations to safely use campus facilities is flagrantly offensive.
Further, as Hill’s comment alludes, the policy raises particular challenges for student athletes. As The Pitt News reported yesterday, the NCAA has rules requiring transgender students be allowed to play on the team with which they identify provided they’ve simply completed one year of hormone therapy — but that rule does not cover lockerrooms. So under the current policy at Pitt, a trans student can play on the right team, but can’t use the right lockerroom.
The policy also conflicts with the non-discrimination protections in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, which identify an individual’s gender by how it is lived and perceived by others. Pitt claims it does not discriminate on the basis of gender identity and expression, but it is essentially erasing an entire population of trans students who don’t — and shouldn’t have to — fit into an arbitrary mold of identity.