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GenderSAFET in a world of stereotypes
Almost 150 colleges now have gender identity protections

by Brittney Hoffman

GenderYOUTH Campus Director
Brittney Hoffman
I never really had to think about my gender identity or expression. I identify as a female, which so happens to correspond to my assigned sex at birth. I have long hair. I feel comfortable wearing skirts (and pants). I wear make-up. When making a decision about which restroom to use, the only pause I ever had to take was outside the bathroom door waiting in the inevitably long line for the “women’s” restroom. It wasn’t until college when I started to ask different questions about my gender and the gendered environment around me.

I had a lot of friends in college whose gender identity was no longer a given. Short hair, strong bodies, pants and ties — these women challenged my own gender stereotypes and those of their campuses and cultures. During my four years on campus, I was often asked to accompany my friends to the restroom in a dorm, a dining hall, a gas station or a restaurant. For a while, I just thought it was the usual group trip to the bathroom to chat about the failures that were our dates or to laugh about some mundane detail of our day.

But one time, I didn’t want to go. I was preoccupied, busy, tired. My friend looked at me, took my hand and said, “But I need them to know that I’m a girl.” Without me, she said, she couldn’t pass, and if she didn’t pass she didn’t feel safe.

A recent survey conducted by the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GenderPAC) reveals that nearly one-third of the students who responded reported experiencing harassment for not meeting expectations for femininity or masculinity. One-in-four respondents of color reported similar instances of discrimination and harassment. Gender, race and sex continue to intersect in these moments of miscommunication, prejudice and violence. These were not isolated incidents — this is an epidemic. And it affects all of us — gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, straight and questioning.

Inspired by my friends’ experiences with gender-based discrimination, both on college campuses and in the “real world,” I dedicated my academic and professional careers to the pursuit of gender and human rights. After completing my degree, it was time to put theory into practice, so I came to GenderPAC to advocate on behalf of all students to learn, grow and succeed — whether or not they meet expectations for femininity or masculinity.

As the Campus Director for the GenderYOUTH program, I work with over 300 progressive youth leaders working to create GenderSAFET campuses that are supportive, protective and equitable for all students. And, similar to my experiences with my close friends, so many of the youth involved with the network report similar stresses, anxieties and fears of gender-based harassment on campus, including concerns about school policies, availability of gender-neutral restrooms and gender-neutral housing options.

GPAC has published the 2nd edition of the GENIUS Index (Gender Equality National Index for Universities and Schools) to track and evaluate the efforts of colleges, universities, and K-12 school districts to prohibit discrimination and promote awareness of gender identity and expression in their policies.

By providing students with better options — a bathroom where you don’t have to defend your gender, or an application that allows you to choose a roommate based on true compatibility and not biological sex — GenderSAFET campuses attract and retain the best and brightest the U.S. has to offer. GenderSAFET campuses create environments where students can achieve their potential without barriers imposed by gender stereotypes. They provide a rich and inclusive campus where students can feel comfortable expressing their whole selves.

Just over 10 years ago, not a single college or university was talking about gender inclusion. Today, according to the GENIUS Index, there are close to 150 colleges and universities with “gender identity and expression” protections in their non-discrimination policies, including two-thirds of the Top 25 universities in the U.S. More than 140 campuses provide gender-neutral restrooms. And 30 campuses provide gender-neutral housing options. This movement may be new, but it shows no signs of stopping.

With educators, school administrators and students just getting back to school this fall, it’s time to start asking some bigger questions about gender and the gendered environment they create or perpetuate. Two-thirds of our nation’s top colleges and universities have acted to alleviate gender-based violence and harassment — when will the rest?

— Brittney Hoffman is the GenderYOUTH Campus Director for Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GenderPAC) in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at Brittney.Hoffman@gpac.org.

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