At University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Trans Students May Have Finally Won True Locker Room Access

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Justine Kramer, a nonbinary trans woman who is a student at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, became the center of a controversy when she wanted to use the women’s locker room in January, but it looks like the fight over access may be over soon.

After she was kicked out of that space by a student employee who said her supervisor, Heath Powell, associate director of Klotsche Center, wanted to “verify” her gender. After seeing her driver’s license still said “male,” he decided she would not be allowed back into the locker room, Kramer said. The UW legal team then told the university they had to change their rules to be more inclusive.

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The university then introduced a new policy. However, under the drafted policy, trans students are allowed to be in the locker room corresponding to their gender but can’t change in locker rooms lest it be considered sexual harassment. Although administrators said the family locker room would be the best option, it doesn’t have access to the pool and sauna, Kramer pointed out.

Kramer told ThinkProgress she’s very aware of not doing anything that could possibly be deemed “suspicious” given stereotypes pushed by conservatives recently about trans women being predatory in locker rooms and bathrooms. For the most part, Kramer said most of the student body has been supportive.

“A substantial majority of students are supportive but there are some who aren’t. It happens less often now that I’ve been using the locker room the whole semester so over the time the dirty looks I’ve gotten have gone down, because people think, ‘Hey I recognize this person. They’re not going to rape me. They’re just using this place same as we are,’ but there are times when I get the death glare like they’re hyper-alert, and I’m just trying to do my thing and leave,” Kramer said.

Kramer has filed a Title IX complaint with the school. The Student Association voted 24–0 against the proposal to limit what trans people could do in the locker room, saying that the drafted policy stigmatized and discriminated against trans people. Dr. Cary Gabriel Costell, also spoke out against the policy. Costell wrote to the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee for LGBT+ Advocacy, “As someone who was born genitally and gonadally intersex, and who gender transitioned in adulthood from the sex I was assigned at birth, I find them insulting and harmful. I’m frankly shocked that they are being proposed as ‘inclusive’ procedures, and have been vetted by Legal.”

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But luckily, new language has been introduced, although it hasn’t been officially adopted yet. The Chancellor’s Advisory Committee for LGBT+ Advocacy met on Thursday and the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael Laliberte offered a new draft. Under the new draft, students wouldn’t having to identify their gender on a membership agreement. Staff would stop making assumptions on who will use which locker room and will ask if someone wishes to use the men’s or women’s locker room.

The new draft also recognizes that it is redundant to keep the anti-harassment section given the fact that the anti-harassment policy is in another document. Repeating the harassment policy in the locker room policy would sound like an accusation pointed at trans people. The administration would also hope to budget for multiple private changing spaces and showers that trans people aren’t required to use.

The part Kramer is most concerned with has been addressed, which says there should be two options only — require every student to cover up in the locker room or don’t require any student to cover up.

The news is welcome relief to Kramer, who said the administration asked if there was anything they could do to make her feel safe in the men’s locker room. She responded, “With all this hate and bashing going on, no there is not.”

Kramer said it is particularly difficult to navigate the locker room issue when she is in the early stages of her transition, but she says she also resents the implication that she needs to be comply with certain beauty standards to be treated with respect.

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“Even if I developed breasts and all these other changes I want to have happen, when people ask what my identity is I tend to say nonbinary trans woman,” Kramer said. “I like the awareness that [pro-trans rights articles] are raising but at the same time, sometimes I don’t like them because they uphold the idea that if you’re a trans woman, you have to look like this — ultrafeminine — and I just feel like, ‘OK I just said ‘F you’ to all these male gender ideas about who I’m supposed to be and was assigned at birth as male and now I’m supposed to be all these female stereoypes and I’m like, ‘No, I’m not going to do that.’”

It’s unclear when the new drafted policy will officially be adopted or whether further changes will be made to the policy.