After coming under fire for what many view as discrimination against a transgender student, an Oregon Christian university is updating its housing policies in an attempt to be more accommodating to trans students.
Earlier this month, news broke that the U.S. Department of Education granted George Fox University — a private Christian college located in Newberg, Ore., — a religious exemption to Title IX protections in regards to the case of transgender man Jayce Marcus. The university had recently denied Marcus's requests to be housed with other male students, or given a waiver to live off-campus.
Last week, George Fox University issued a statement, explaining that its policy would allow for students who have undergone genital surgery to be housed in accordance with their gender. All other gender-nonconforming students will continue to be housed according to the sex they were assigned at birth.
"Providing appropriate housing for transgender students continues to be a challenge at religious and non-religious institutions across the country," the school states on its website. "George Fox University has a two-year required, single-sex dorm policy it has developed in light of its religious convictions. It has the discretion to assign all students to appropriate housing. Common residence halls are single-sex, defined anatomically. We are committed to residential access, and it is consistent with our beliefs and our community values that a presurgical transgendered person will be provided on-campus housing in appropriate alternative housing well-connected to the residential community. That person also has the option to live off campus."
However, as Zack Ford at ThinkProgress notes, the university's student health insurance explicitly excludes transition-related care from its coverage. According to the 2013-2014 plan, exclusions include "sexual reassignment surgery, growth hormones, and surgical breast reduction," reports ThinkProgress. That means that even if Jayce were to desire or undergo genital surgery — to meet the school's criteria to be housed with other male students — he would have to pay for the costly procedures entirely out of pocket.
The school goes on to point out that it's not just religious schools struggling with the question of how to deal with trans students, citing all-women's school Smith College's ongoing, controversial policy prohibiting transgender women.
"In March of 2013, a high school senior and [transgender] woman’s application to all-women Smith College was rejected for admission on the basis that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid indicated her gender as male," George Fox University's statement continues. "Smith had gained a private-school exemption for single-sex undergraduate admissions during the Title IX Education Amendments of 1972 legislative discussions. It is important to note that religious colleges were not the only ones to receive exemptions from Title IX as the law is written so that elite private men’s and women’s colleges can accept or reject any person on the basis of gender."
According to the University Herald, the new surgical requirements have done little to assuage Marcus's concerns.
"If George Fox University is drawing the line at gender reassignment surgery, that is not the line drawn by state and federal law," Marcus's attorney, Paul Southwick, told the Herald. "Gender identity protections do not extend only to those individuals who can afford, or who are ready, for gender reassignment surgery."
George Fox University also provided its own timeline of events, stating that the school first requested a Title IX exemption after Southwick filed a complaint with the Department of Education in April. The university contends that the exemption was granted in May, and the Department of Education closed the complaint without taking action against the school.