The Trump administration removed Obama-era federal guidelines for transgender students in public schools and as a result, students are no longer guaranteed the right under federal law to use bathrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities that match their gender identity, as of Feb. 23. However, the University’s establishment of gender-neutral bathrooms will remain unaffected, according to administration.
The protections, in place since May 2016 by former President Barack Obama, said that prohibiting transgender students from using facilities that align with their gender identity violated federal anti-discrimination laws. The White House announced the roll-back of Obama’s protection guidelines in a statement published on Feb. 22.
President Trump declared, “policy regarding transgender bathrooms should be decided at the state level…returning power to the states paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from students, parents, teachers, and administrators.”
In 2016, the University took steps to make the campus more inclusive towards transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Every single building on campus now has at least one gender-neutral bathroom that can be used by all students, regardless of gender identity.
“Monmouth University established gender neutral bathrooms and fully intends to keep them as they are designated today,” said Mary Anne Nagy, Vice President for Student Life and Leadership Engagement, speaking on the behalf of University President Grey Dimenna.
“The executive order says you are no longer required to do so but we will continue to provide them because it is the right thing to do. Monmouth prides itself on being caring, welcoming, and inclusive community, and all members of our campus should feel safe here. We are committed as a campus to be a place where everyone is valued and respected.”
“The appropriations of society become huge pushbacks for transgender youth as kids search for years looking for an identity that is not available to them,” explained Jane Lai, a sophomore English student and the Vice President of Sexuality, Pride, Education, Community, Truth, Respect, and Unity at Monmouth (S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M.).
“The male and female binaries, to this day, are extremely strict, harming both men and women. Unfortunately, in many transgender cases, they have to live a large portion of their early life by blindly stumbling through a facet of a test which they don’t know the answers to,” Lai added.
While Lai believes that more can be done to help the campus community understand transgender issues, she felt that the bathrooms themselves were a step in the right direction.
“There were some positives,” Lai said. “Some transitioning, as well as gender-fluid and transgender individuals felt more comfortable in using those bathrooms, especially the single-stalled gender neutral ones.”
“I find the neutral bathrooms [on campus] to be an interesting social movement, and I am happy that people who felt misunderstood and distressed are fighting for their rights for comfort,” said Joy Morgan, a junior communications student and the president of the University’s Youth Activists Club. “The club has multiple political perspectives, including pro-Trump. That being said, we try to have educated and positive conversations about politics without being clearly polarized.”
Morgan added, “I should also mention then that there are also members who are disturbed by this decision and find Trump’s behaviors to be disturbing and inhumane. It has also been expressed that decisions like this from Trump shows his inability to move forward with social change and civil rights.”
Lai herself was involved in conversations with Kenneth Womack, the Dean of the University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences Department, to try to make further improvements. According to Lai, those improvements have included the implementation of SafeZone training for faculty, and offering more diversity talks on campus.
According to Nancy Mezey, Associate Dean of Faculty and Academic Affairs for the McMurray School of Humanities and Social Science, SafeZone is a national program that was brought to the University in 2015. “Trainers from the gayalliance.org came and trained approximately 10 administrators across the University where they learned to think about gender and sexuality diversity and create a campus climate where people who claim diverse gender and sexuality feel safe,” she said.
While the University may remain unaffected by the roll-backs of Obamas executive order, it is one that will have far-reaching ramifications nationwide. One such example is the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender student in Virginia who sued his school board after it barred him from using the boy’s bathroom.
On Thursday, March 2, unions representing more than one million teachers told the Supreme Court that it should grant Grimm and students like him across the country access to school restrooms that match their gender, despite Trump’s executive order.
While Grimm’s case won in a federal appeals court, it was appealed and brought to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court sent the case back down to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday, March 6. According to an article by The Atlantic on Mar. 6, the decision was made in part because of the Trump administration’s new position on the issues involved in the case.
A similar case may not arise at the University as Nagy reminds students that while the executive order may have been issued, the campus is still a place where “everyone is valued and respected.”
“Anyone who may be subjected to behavior or actions contrary to that should seek assistance from my office, the Monmouth University Police, or the Office of Equity and Diversity,” Nagy said.
PHOTO TAKEN by Alexandria Afanador