Earlier this month, it came to light that George Fox University in Oregon had obtained a religious exemption under Title IX to refuse a transgender student access to a single-sex residence hall. The student, identified as Jayce, had filed a complaint with the school after he had been told he was not allowed to live with other men.
In the wake of this controversy, George Fox has announced that it is adjusting its policy slightly, such that “common residence halls are single-sex, defined anatomically.” This means that a student who takes surgical steps as part of his or her physical transition could be eligible for residence hall housing, which would include Jayce.
School officials explained that the university is “very conscious of the need to approach difficult questions with grace, understanding, and an abiding love for our students, faculty, and staff,” but there appear to be limits to the sensitivity it is willing to provide transgender students. For example, many transgender people choose not undergo surgical changes to their bodies, either because they cannot afford it, because they do not wish to sacrifice their reproductive ability, or because they simply do not feel it is a necessary step to realize their gender identities. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that at most, a quarter of trans people had already had some form of genital surgery, though many more wanted to someday. In turn, the World Health Organization recently condemned any policy that requires transgender people to undergo sterilizing surgery in order to obtain legal recognition.
Furthermore, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommends in its Standards of Care that candidates for surgery be of an age of consent, and that they have undergone at least one full year of hormone therapy. As a predominantly undergraduate university, this means that most of the students impacted by the policy are young and may not be ready to commit to such a life-changing decision.
The most apparent conflict with this new policy, however, is that even if a student is ready and willing to undergo a surgical transition, George Fox’s student health insurance policy does not cover any transition-related care. According to the 2013–2014 plan, the following services are all listed under exclusions for coverage: sexual reassignment surgery, growth hormones, and surgical breast reduction. Thus, the university discriminates against transgender students who have not had surgery and simultaneously creates obstacles for transgender students who would want to.
George Fox University explains that it maintains single-sex dorms because of its “religious commitments on sexuality and efforts to build community within a residential environment.”