About 50 students rallied on Beinecke Plaza Wednesday to demand that the University add a clause concerning gender identity to Yale’s nondiscrimination policy.
The effort, spearheaded by the Yale Queer Political Action Committee, is focused on creating a means of legal recourse for students, faculty or staff who feel the University has discriminated against them based on any expression of gender identity, QPAC member Jessie Ellner ’08 said. QPAC has gathered more than 1,000 signatures from undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and alumni on a petition supporting the clause, which was sent to Yale officials — including President Richard Levin, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg — on Wednesday, Ellner said.
“There are maybe three out transgender individuals here,” Ellner said. “[But] when over 1,000 people speak out, that shows the University that it really matters.”
Yale’s current diversity and equal opportunity policy states that “the University will not condone racial or sexual harassment or any other act of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability or sexual orientation.” It does not contain any provisions for discrimination on the basis of gender identity expressed through clothing, speech and behavior.
Yale President Richard Levin declined to comment on the issue, saying that he has not yet seen the petition.
Loren Krywanczyk ’06, who identified himself as gender-queer and spoke at the rally about his experiences as a transgender person at Yale, said the issue goes beyond the transgender community. Gender identity includes people’s decisions about what clothes to wear and how to act, Krywanczyk said, and is relevant to almost everyone.
“I think the point of this sort of push is that it is a personal issue for 97 percent of the population in the sense that we’re dealing with gender expression,” Krywanczyk said.
Hugh Baran ’09, a member of QPAC, said the policy is important both on a practical level and as a political statement since a parallel effort to add gender identity to Connecticut’s nondiscrimination policy is currently making its way through the state legislature.
“It puts Yale on record saying this is a matter of societal concern,” he said. “Yale could have a powerful impact on events in the whole state.”
Ellner said that while most people were supportive, some students have said they do not think the issue is a pressing one, especially given the small number of transgender people on Yale’s campus.
James Kirchick ’06 said that while he thinks transgendered people should have the right to protect themselves against discrimination, he does not see the proposed addition to the non-discrimination policy as a relevant issue to the gay community.
“It doesn’t seem like a major issue to me,” he said.
Kirchick is an occasional columnist for the News.
More than 50 other schools nationwide, including Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Iowa, currently have gender identity clauses in their nondiscrimination policies, Ellner said.
Wesleyan University added gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy three years ago, said Zach Strassburger, a senior at Wesleyan who is active in the transgender community. Strassburger said adding gender identity to the nondiscrimination policy was a good first step in recognizing the needs of transgender people.
“It’s made the administration more conscious of what we need to do,” Strassburger said. “It’s made a difference in what kinds of students feel they can come to Wesleyan.”
Members of QPAC say they have received mixed but largely positive reactions from the Yale student body while tabling for the petition.
“A lot of people are surprised that Yale hasn’t made this change already,” Baran said. “I think most people understand that discrimination on any grounds is wrong.”
Former Dining Services worker Erin Emily Dwyer, a transsexual, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the University in 2004 alleging harassment from coworkers and supervisors. Dwyer lost the case.