Originally published: July 31, 2013, 11:21 a.m.
Updated: Aug. 9, 2013, 2:30 p.m.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The University of North Carolina system Board of Governors voted on Friday morning to approve a ban on gender-inclusive housing on all 17 campuses of the university system.
The policy was considered at today’s UNC Board of Governors’ meeting in Chapel Hill. It is nearly identical to a bill proposed in the North Carolina Senate in April. It prohibits all UNC campuses from offering “gender-neutral” housing.
“The constituent institutions shall not assign members of the opposite sex to any institutionally owned and operated dormitory room, dormitory suite, or campus apartment unless the students are siblings, parent and child, or they are legally married,” the new system policy reads. “This policy applies to housing assignments beginning with the fall 2013 semester.”
Advocates for LGBT students immediately condemned the vote.
“The policy doesn’t serve to protect any student,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of the Charlotte-based Campus Pride. “It makes the campus more divisive. It makes housing and harassment a greater problem for all students.”
Windmeyer’s group works with LGBT college students across the country. In Charlotte, he said a transgender student’s death by suicide earlier this year was influenced by housing problems.
“One of her friends said she was harassed out of housing and she couldn’t find the housing she needed,” Windmeyer said, calling the UNC board’s vote “insensitive.” “This isn’t just about policy decisions and politics; it’s about real lives.”
Windmeyer said the UNC board completely ignored him and several students who attended today’s meeting with him.
“The whole theme for the day was avoidance,” he said. “After the vote, we stood in the lobby with our signs and when they came out of closed session they basically ignored us. The leadership went upstairs to talk to the press and we thought they would come back down to talk to us, but instead they went around the building and out the other door to avoid us. They avoided discussing the issue, avoided student input and avoided direct conversation. It is really a sad state of affairs for North Carolina.”
UNC-Chapel Hill had planned to offer gender-neutral housing to some students this fall. They will be forced to eliminate such plans. Discussions on similar plans at UNC-Charlotte will likely be halted.
Justine Hollingshead, director of North Carolina State University’s GLBT Student Center, was not at the Friday meeting, but told qnotes Friday afternoon that the new policy would not interfere with her campus’ services for transgender students.
“How we meet the needs of our students isn’t going to change and the policy as written won’t impact how we are providing services,” she said. “If a student identifies as male and is living as a male and they are transitioning, depending upon where they are personally in that process, we will work with that student.”
The policy clearly includes all types of campus housing — dormitory halls, suites and campus apartments. So, it is not yet clear how the policy will impact co-ed suite- and apartment-style housing. Hollingshead said N.C. State still has a number of housing options for students in need.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to meet the needs of our transgender students where they are,” she said. “We do not anticipate not being able to continue doing what we’ve been doing.”
Hollingshead had also issued earlier concerns about pressure from outside advocacy groups like Campus Pride, which issued an action alert on the issue last week. They also released written testimony they hoped could have been entered into the meeting’s record. And, a former staffer wrote a guest commentary in qnotes‘ Aug. 2 print edition.
“The external pressure in this situation is not helpful,” Hollingshead said. “It’s helpful in that it creates conversation, and we always need to have conversation, but I think in this situation that when you look at the institutions across the state and what we’ve said about the situation and what we’re doing is very different from what these external advocacy groups are doing.”
Hollingshead added,” We want to to be able to work with the leadership in the state system…Sometimes you have to see how things go first before making a judgment.”
Equality North Carolina, a statewide advocacy organization, also weighed in on the decision.
“We are extremely disappointed with the Board of Governors decision to bow to outside and uninformed pressure and strip gender-inclusive housing options that have been shown to not only promote LGBT student safety but also improve the overall campus climate as well,” Equality North Carolina Executive Director Stuart Campbell said in a release.
Cambell added, “There is no sound reason to reverse this policy. Students were required to submit an application for an extremely limited number of gender neutral housing units, and the units themselves had separate bedrooms. This could literally make a life or death difference for kids who are struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity and want to have a safe space they can call home while they are on campus. This move has stripped away an important tool university administrators had to protect their LGBT students.”
[Ed. Note — This writer worked briefly with Campus Pride in Spring 2012.]