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Trustees to vote on protections for transgender students, others

By NATALIE WRIGHT
Editor

The Washtenaw Community College board of trustees will vote on Tuesday whether or not to add “gender identity and gender expression” to the college’s anti-discrimination, affirmative action and several other policies in response to a proposal from the Jim Toy Community Center (JTCC).

WCC is the only public institution of higher education in Washtenaw County that does not include the protections, JTCC President Sandi Smith wrote in a letter to the trustees last month.

At the board’s Oct. 28 meeting, Jim Toy, an Ann Arbor LGBTQ-rights icon, spoke to the trustees, asking them to seriously consider adding the language to make the protection policies more inclusive. Trustee Patrick McLean recommended that the board and the college move quickly on this recommendation.

And they did.

“This is like the fastest policy change that’s ever happened here,” board Chair Stephen Gill said. “In just two weeks, we’ve prepared to change five policies.

“We just recognize that this affects the lives, directly, of students,” Gill said, adding that the trustees all agreed to act quickly.

At the Oct. 28 meeting, Toy and former WCC student Andre Wilson, implored the trustees to act quickly because WCC is vitally important to the community.

“My experience at WCC is excellent, and I’ve always been proud to support this community college,” Wilson said. “A decade ago, I underwent a transgender transition.”

His sister was teaching here at the time, he said, and asked about the policies at WCC.

“Shortly after my transition, I joined other students at the University of Michigan to get them to update their policy on gender transition and discretion, which we did in 2007,” Wilson said. “So you’re not alone.

“I urge you, as a community member, as a taxpayer … I urge you to edit your non-discrimination policy.”

Toy applauded the college for policies that demonstrate a focus on protecting students and employees from discrimination.

“However, the language of the current policies do not adequately provide stable protection from discrimination and discriminatory habits as a whole,” he said.

While “gender identity and gender expression” is often tied to transgender individuals, it includes a variety of ways people identify, like asexual or pansexual, Toy said.

The college’s general counsel, Larry Barkoff, has been working on crafting a recommendation, which he will present to the board on Tuesday, Gill said. While the JTCC only recommended changes to policies 5081 and 5010, regarding anti-discrimination and affirmative action, at least three other policies need to be amended to keep consistency of language, Gill said, including policies on Access, Success and Equity for Diverse People, Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct Code and Admissions.

Some students are doing what they can to ensure that this change is passed, sending a letter to other students, asking them to add their name and send it to the trustees.

“Including gender identity and gender expression language ensures more WCC individuals are protected under school policy,” the letter says. “Keeping a tradition of long standing values, which last year during the annual ACCT Leadership Congress, WCC was awarded Central Regional Equity Award, I trust these amendments will pass.”

Gill said he has not received letters from any students, as of Friday, Nov. 14.

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