Bureaucracy Busting: LGBTQ Efforts at UT-Austin
Posted by Nick
May 2, 2014
Earlier this week, the Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights extended the Title IX clause to protect transgender students from discrimination in schools. The OCR explained, “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity…” This is a monumental step for trans* folks as transgender students face sweeping forms of discrimination, bullying, and violence in the classroom. Though this is a huge step for the LGBTQ movement, when it comes grassroots approaches, how effective is youth advocacy and organizing? At Texas universities, it has become clear that top-down approaches will be the only way to create effective change.
Students at the University of Texas at Austin have been extremely supportive of the LGBTQ community. With safe spaces like the Gender and Sexuality Center and a myriad of student organizations on campus, the LGBTQ community is loud and proud. However, Queer Students Alliance (QSA), an agency of Student Government, has been working tirelessly for years for extended protection of LGBT folks on campus.
In 2012, QSA alongside the Pride and Equity Faculty and Staff Association worked on legislation to provide competitive insurance benefits for same-sex staff on campus. A gender-inclusive housing bill was also brought to Student Government hoping to change certain dormitories to be gender-inclusive making a more comfortable environment for trans* students living on campus.
However, after almost two years of work and though bills were supported and passed by Student Government, the Texas Board of Regents ultimately has the final say. These bills seem to be at a standstill. The board members, appointed by none other than Governor Rick Perry, carry the final decisions when it comes to bills passed by Student Government. If students work to get elected, draft resolutions, hold debates, and have a final vote, yet the Board of Regents denies it, then honestly, what is the point? What voice do students really have in trying to protect one another and serve the student body if these nine members have the power to put an end to all of that? It’s understandable why they have decision-making authority, but it becomes extremely discouraging for students working in these top leadership positions to truly believe they’re making a change.
“I think that’s one of the most frustrating parts about this,” said Marisa Kent, Co-Director of QSA, “we get the support of the student body, but once we send it to the Board of Regents, we see a lot of hesitation from them.”
QSA is currently working alongside other queer student organizations on once again, drafting and submitting legislation protecting the LGBTQ community on campus. Their new initiative is to expand medical services for transgender students. There are only a handful of campuses around the country that provide these services at their health services departments and it’s no surprise that this Texas school doesn’t provide basic coverage for transgender students. Services like hormonal treatments, reassignment surgeries, and counseling are not covered. However, pap smears and other similar services are offered for trans* students.
University Health Services is willing to cooperate and wanting to help transgender students, but their hands are tied. Attempting to discuss coverage for students with faculty at University Health Services seemed to be extremely difficult. Sent on a wild goose change from one office to the next just to understand what medical coverage is provided, staff members failed to comment on their services. If it’s this hard to just talk about the services provided for transgender students with people who work there, how are students actually supposed to know what’s offered to them?
The process of drafting legislation and incorporating the needs of students on campus is a long one. Introducing the bill, holding debates, amendments, and getting it passed with a vote is an arduous process. It’s not easy. The LGBTQ students and staff on campus are tirelessly pushing for protections and services on their campus. The biggest problems seem to relate back to the bureaucratic process.
The Board of Regents have the final say in implementing Student Government legislation and the many offices in health services make it hard for students to fully understand what services are provided to them, let alone, how to receive them. It’s quite evident the support and leadership from youth is there and stronger than ever, but will the University back their students? The Department of Education made their support for transgender students clear, which is a huge step, but it’s time that youth who are directly calling for these services and protections are heard.