MURCHISON AND O’CONNELL: Defend trans students, YCC

As the foremost representatives of undergraduates to Yale’s administration, members of the Yale College Council occupy a unique position on campus. This status gives the YCC a responsibility to work on the problems that most affect university life. Unequal treatment by the University on the basis of personal characteristics — including, but not limited to, sexual orientation and gender identity — seriously damages affected students’ ability to get the most out of their time at Yale. The YCC must stand against it now.

Although the administration has paid lip service to the concerns of transgender and gender-nonconforming students, its actions over the last year have demonstrated little interest in or respect for those students’ needs. Not only does this decrease the quality of life of current transgender and gender non-conforming students, it also deters others from applying — denying us the company of classmates who would have made great contributions to Yale.

The administration showed particular disrespect for transgender and gender-nonconforming students by inviting the military’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs to return to campus in 2013. Yale College administrators are fully aware that, despite the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, all branches of the military continue to exclude transgender and gender-nonconforming people from service. They know but do not care that the ROTC programs will violate the University’s Equal Opportunity Statement.

Even after members of the Faculty Committee on ROTC met with representatives of Trans/gender Awareness Week and the LGBT Co-op last year, the administration said almost nothing about the LGBTQ community’s concerns in its final report, mentioning the meeting only in passing and misidentifying the students’ affiliations. The YCC never commented on the committee report’s failure to acknowledge that ROTC discriminates against transgender people and again failed to mention the exclusion in its own report on the program.

Health care is another pressing issue for transgender students, and Yale’s contradictory policies on gender-related health care prevent students from accessing the care they need. Yale Health has stated that gender-affirming surgeries (also known as sex-reassignment surgeries) are medically necessary for many transgender people and covers those surgeries for employees and their dependents. In spite of this affirmation, gender-affirming surgery is explicitly excluded from the student health plan — a discriminatory policy with no medical, actuarial or moral basis. Surgery is unaffordable to many students and their families, while its cost to Yale Health is insignificant. All students, not just those with access to wealth or secondary health insurance, must be able to access the surgeries they need, and the YCC should work with administrators and Yale Health to reconcile the student health plan with the employee version.

We applaud YCC’s successful campaign to expand mixed-gender housing to juniors. Unfortunately, half of all students are still banned from living with students of another gender. Perhaps the YCC’s silence on this issue stems from a belief that mixed-gender housing, like off-campus housing, is a privilege for students deemed mature.

Prohibitions on mixed-gender housing harm all students, but especially transgender students. Living with friends of another gender is no special privilege. All the reasons to expand mixed-gender housing to juniors apply to younger students as well, and the YCC must campaign to lift the ban for freshmen and sophomores.

Given all of these circumstances, the YCC candidates need to rethink their priorities. Candidates will not effectively represent the LGBTQ community — or any part of the Yale community — if they focus only on relatively trivial issues. Instead, they should commit themselves to solving the problems that affect our basic ability to get the most out of Yale.

The issues we have outlined are not the only ones that make a difference; financial aid, mental health and other concerns should be priorities as well. But questions about whether every member of the Yale community can participate equally in academic programs or even get the medical care he or she needs are undeniably more important than who comes to Spring Fling and what we can buy with a Durfee’s swipe. Candidates, please take seriously your responsibility to represent all Yalies, and spend time during and after your campaign thinking about how to best fulfill that duty.

Gabe Murchison is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact him at Hilary O’Connell is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at


  • The Anti-Yale

    If one in 2000 babies is born with both sex organs,
    then administrators and others who sweep it under the rug have odds of 2000-to-one of encountering it in their own lives.

    Time to take the gender identity issue seriously.


  • lakia

    1 in 2000 is a NON ISSUE.

    • The Anti-Yale

      Rather cold hearted aren’t you?

      It’s non issue, ONLY if you aren’t expecting a baby or don’t have a loved one who is expecting a baby.


      • lakia

        Nope. Just realistic.

        • ihaveahammer

          “this thing doesn’t affect me personally” —> “this thing is a non-issue”

  • Jess

    Word. Yale can’t actually claim to be a queer-friendly school as long as it has trans-exclusive policies.

  • KennethReveiz

    An important intervention by Murchison & O’Connell–thanks so much for this and keep up the good work!

  • River_Tam

    So, as I understand it, the objections are:

    1) That the US government discriminates against transsexuals by refusing to let them serve in the armed forces.

    2) That freshmen are not put into mixed-gender housing.

    3) That the Yale student health plan does not cover SRS (euphemistically called “gender-affirming surgery”).

    Response in next post (too long)

  • River_Tam

    In reverse order:

    Point #3 is silly. Student health plans are notoriously bad and SRS (particularly F2M) is notoriously expensive (not an “insignificant cost at all). In fact, SRS can be more expensive than the price of a year’s tuition at Yale. I see no hidden agenda here, just a student health plan not covering a huge expense. Employee health plans cover it because employee health plans need to be competitive. Student health plans will not cover it because they are lowest-common-denominator. As someone actually WAS on the student health plan, I can assure you that it is less-than-fantastic for everyone, not just transgendered students.

    Point #2 is a point that “mixed-gender housing advocates” two years ago assured us would not be a problem (“this is only for upper classmen! This will never apply to freshmen! You’re attacking a straw man!”) It is also problematic because it implies that it’s acceptable for a transgendered individual would be uncomfortable living with either men or women, but that it would not be acceptable for a man or woman to be uncomfortable living with a transgendered individual.

    The first point (#1, about ROTC) is the most interesting one, but here are some responses to consider:

    A) ROTC already discriminates against pacifists, conscientious objectors and certain religious groups including Jains, Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. All of these exclusions from participating in what the authors call an “academic program” appear to be similar violations.

    B) The solution is not to ban ROTC from campus as much as it is to refuse to take any money whatsoever from the federal government until it corrects such injustices. To do otherwise is hypocritical and might be mistaken for liberal anti-military sentiment instead of a principled stand against discrimination. Remember, the military (and ROTC) is merely taking orders from the executive branch leaders including the President. President Obama (and future Presidents) should be banned from campus. Financial aid administered by offices of the executive branch should be rejected as well.

    C) Sports teams restrict students on the basis of biological sex and has complicated rules involving testosterone levels and eligibility. Participation in the NCAA falls prey to the same problems as participation in ROTC.

    D) The military uses the DSM (most recent version DSM-IV) to medically exclude transgendered individuals from the military on the basis of mental status. Given that DSM-V will likely contain a similar entry (albeit it under ‘gender dysphoria’ or some other euphemism), I see attacking the military (and ROTC) as the wrong path here. Object, instead, to the DSM’s classifications (like gay activists did in the 70s and 80s) rather than objecting to the military’s use of standard medical criteria.

    • ihaveahammer

      Student health plans need to be just as competitive as employee ones. A number of our peer schools, including Harvard and Penn, cover these surgeries. Going with the most expensive surgery — let’s estimate $50k, though it’s likely to be less if not paid out of pocket — we can see how this coverage can be a significant factor in a student’s choice of university. Keep in mind that we’re talking about graduate and professional as well as undergraduate students. More to the point, though, there is extremely solid data telling us that this coverage, contrasted with the enormous volume of care that YHP provides, makes absolutely no difference to its bottom line. It’s also worth noting that some of the most common procedures cost just $5k to $8k out of pocket.

      Keep in mind that this isn’t just a feature the plan lacks. It’s an explicit exclusion of services that would otherwise be covered. The American Medical Association, and Yale Health itself, says that these are medically necessary procedures. This isn’t an affordability consideration for YHP, it’s a discriminatory policy, and its time has come. If Yale is at all interested in taking care of its students, or in attracting the “best and brightest” regardless of gender, it needs to throw out the exclusion and bring the student plan into parity with employee coverage.

      • River_Tam

        > Student health plans need to be just as competitive as employee ones.

        [citation needed]

        There’s no data to suggest that students base their decision of where to attend university based on the quality of health care coverage (particularly because so many students are covered by their parents’ plans).

        > This isn’t an affordability consideration for YHP

        It isn’t? How do you know this?

        > The American Medical Association, and Yale Health itself, says that these are medically necessary procedures.

        There are other things that the Yale student health plan does not cover that are ‘medically necessary’, including orthotics, travel vaccines, outpatient psychotherapy, and hospitalization for obesity/weight reduction.

        The funny thing is: SRS is considered only medically necessary if you consider GID (Gender Identity Disorder) to be itself a “serious medical condition” (the AMA specifically states this when making the case for SRS being medically necessary).

        Note that medicare does not cover SRS either.

        • ihaveahammer

          a. I personally know people who have chosen one college over another based on the availability of this kind of care. People choose based on financial aid all the time, and this is a similar consideration. Besides, the exclusion signals the admin’s “f you” attitude towards trans/gnc students, even when they don’t need surgery.

          b. Because I’ve talked to administrators about it. It’s also been the experience of insurers and self-insured institutions that cover these procedures. For instance, see the City of San Francisco’s experience in offering full coverage for its employees:

          c. Yale Health covers therapy in-house; why would we expect them to also pay out of network providers? Orthotics are a device, not a procedure (usually treated separately in insurance plans), though I personally would endorse covering them, along with hospitalization for obesity. Travel vaccines should be considered a part of the cost of travel, not a medical necessity.

          Everyone knows the GID diagnosis is outdated and bad, but the diagnosis that will replace it is much better — and recommends surgery, when appropriate, even more strongly.

          Medicare and Yale Health are not competitors; Yale and Harvard (and Penn, U Michigan, the UC system, and Caltech, to name a few) certainly are.