In the wake of an Oct. 21 New York Times report that the Trump administration is considering a new rule that would restrict gender to “either male or female” as “determined by the genitals that a person is born with,” Kenyon administrators and students have worked with urgency to highlight resources and bring attention to issues affecting transgender people on campus.
Yesterday morning, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) released a statement addressed to students in response to the potential redefinition of sex and gender. “This news has raised concerns within the transgender community both here at Kenyon College and across the nation,” the statement reads. “Changes at the federal level will not weaken Kenyon’s support for its transgender and non-binary community.”
As early as April 2018, ODEI’s staff were aware of the potential for a federal change. “It’s really been guiding the work that we’ve been doing … for instance, making the resources for trans students more visible,” Timothy Bussey, assistant director of ODEI, said.
The statement released by ODEI lists some of these resources, including hormone replacement therapy and other transition-related health care covered by the College’s student health insurance plan, financial support for students to change gender markers on their U.S. passports, and a free gender and name change clinic that will be held on Nov. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. in Gund Commons.
ODEI is hosting the clinic alongside Equitas Health, who will provide pro bono legal counsel for students filing paperwork, and TransOhio, a non profit that can offer financial assistance to students who cannot afford state filing fees and other costs.
Although Bussey said that the Times report “does create a bit more urgency to continue expanding those resources,” he also emphasized that the rule is not currently in place and has not yet seen a formal proposal.
Even if the new rule were to go into effect, Kenyon’s policy toward sex and gender would go unchanged. “The reality is, our nondiscrimination policy is something that still covers gender identity, gender expression and sexuality as well as sex assigned at birth,” Bussey said.
At the same time, Bussey relayed fears that a federal restriction of gender to a “biological” basis could jeopardize the gender nondiscrimination provision in Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. Without this provision, major insurance companies in the U.S. could refuse to cover health care costs related to transitioning.
“There would be potentially situations where we would really have to examine what type of plan we’re buying for students to make sure that comprehensive care is available,” Bussey said.
Bussey will also sit on a panel discussion on transphobia and cisgender allyship tomorrow at 4 p.m in Hayes Hall. ODEI, Unity House and Gender Group will co-sponsor the discussion, and other panelists include Chloe Hannah-Drullard ’20; Cat March ’19 and Micah Fisher ’21, the leaders of Gender Group; and Gilda Rodriguez, visiting instructor of women’s and gender studies and political science. Grace Harris ’20 and James Lituchy ’19, the co-managers of Unity House, will serve as moderators.
The groups had already been planning a panel on trans identity as part of LGBTQ+ History Month, but with the publication of the Times report, they decided to focus explicitly on the new rule and schedule the discussion as soon as possible.
“The purpose is to kind of demystify trans people’s confusion about this as well,” March said. “Answer questions like, ‘What will I do? What will happen to me? Will I be OK?’ … and spread information instead of panic amongst the trans community.”
Fisher hopes the panel will lead to more campus activism. “I think it is important for cis people (especially cis white people) to listen to queer/trans POC [people of color],” he wrote in a statement to the Collegian. “Cis allies need to understand that they have the power to change everyday conversations around trans people.”
Similarly, March urges cisgender students to inform themselves about issues like the federal redefinition of gender and to stay involved in active allyship. “It shouldn’t take a crisis to make folks rally,” they said. “We should be rallying already.”