Spectrum, the Auburn Gay-Straight Alliance, has started a petition to add gender expression to the list of protected classes under Auburn University’s official policies.
Currently, the University’s official policy regarding prohibited harassment of students explicitly grants protection from discrimination on the basis of age, sex, religion, race, color, national origin, sexual orientation or disability.
According to Joni Swope, Spectrum’s director of social affairs, gender expression is a category separate from sexual orientation.
Swope said gender expression encompasses transsexual or transgender people, who are currently not explicitly protected under University policy.
“Teachers can fail them just because they don’t agree, and they can’t do anything about it,” Swope said. “You can’t do that anymore for kids who are just gay.”
Swope said she thinks individuals with gender expression issues face a great deal of harassment.
“It’s fundamentally contrary to, or seems fundamentally contrary to, traditional lifestyles,” Swope said. “A person who is born a woman, but feels strongly as if they are a man, goes contrary to most people’s ways of thinking. I can’t tell you why I know I’m a girl, but I’ve always known I was a girl. But for people who grow up with my same genetic set and they know, from wherever, that they’re a man—I can’t empathize with that, and empathy is something that’s lost on our generation.”
Swope said the petition has been in existence for approximately a year and a half.
“We have a petition available at all meetings and at all events,” she said. “We’re not standing out on the Concourse with just the petition. It’s always accompanying another event.”
Swope said the group has been unable to get a straight answer from any University office about how many signatures are necessary before a petition will be reviewed by the Board of Trustees.
According to Josh Adams, University policy coordinator, there is no formal protocol for the submission of petitions by a student organization.
“Well, really they all are sort of case by case in terms of who is involved in revising a policy,” Adams said. “But University policies at the highest level are controlled by the board, so student input is certainly input, but changes are officially made and ratified by the board.”
Adams said a student organization wishing to petition for change should just collect as many signatures as possible. The organization could then go to the Office of Student Affairs and ask to be placed on the agenda for the next board meeting.
“Other University policies break down into different administrative positions of the University, and really those policies that students would be able to influence the most would be polices that fall under the director of student affairs, Ainsley Carry,” Adams said.
Spectrum’s desire to change Auburn policy accompanies a statewide policy evaluation.
According to Ralph Young, Equality Alabama vice chair, state Rep. Patricia Todd is considering proposing an amendment to Alabama’s Student Harassment Act that would explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression as protected classes.
“A few years ago, what’s called the Student Harassment Act was passed, and it mandated that every school system … adopt a bullying policy, but did not provide any context or requirements,” Young said. “The state Board of Education then wrote a model policy to give guidance to each of those school districts, and that model policy did not include sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.”
Young said the amendment will be introduced to the legislature in February.
Although Spectrum is seeking to introduce change at the University level, Swope said she thought younger children are among the most important groups to protect.
“I think the biggest problem is with school-age children anyway, because with the age of technology and growing up with anonymity, there’s strength in anonymity,” Swope said. “You can say whatever you want, and it’s OK for you to say it because there’s no ramifications. So I think if there’s going to be this much more power for kids who don’t know how to use it, there has to be accountability for that power and for those choices.”
Swope said she thought the attitude toward Spectrum and the LGBT community was becoming more favorable in Auburn.
“Less people ignore us on campus,” Swope said. “Like when we do stuff on the Concourse we actually have more people that are willing to stop and talk to us instead of just either ignoring us or just giving us funny looks.”
Spectrum meets Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in Student Center 2222.