Former President Barack Obama’s Administration issued a letter to public schools last May which stated that transgender students in K-12 and higher education campuses were allowed to use the restrooms that correspond with their gender identities, and were protected under the federal government in doing so.
Despite many arguing that allowing a transgender student to use the bathroom of their choice is unethical, it was considered a milestone for the LGBTQ+ community. Many LGBTQ+ students were ecstatic for the recognition and inclusivity that transgender students have been waiting to receive.
“Frankly, I was shocked with happiness when I heard that the federal government was actually doing something to stand up for my rights,” senior Public Health Major Emma Christian said. “I honestly didn’t expect to see that anytime soon. We’re a small population, and I didn’t think a lot of people cared about us.”
According to thinkprogress.org, the transgender population in the US is approximately 1.4 million people—less than one percent of the US population.
The thoughts in the CU Denver GLBT Student Services Office were universal regarding the Obama Administration’s letter. “I was excited to see that more students had the opportunity to be their holistic selves,” Xajés Martinez, a transgender man and Assistant Director at the GLBT Office, said.
Less than a year later, President Donald Trump’s administration rescinded those guidelines without offering a replacement.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Christian said. “I didn’t want it to happen, but there had been rumors since about the first week of his presidency that he was going to get rid of transgender bathroom protections and transgender protections in general. It’s saddening to see my federal protections taken away.”
In the letter, the Trump Administration outlined the reasons to recede these rights, stating that individual states should have the right to establish those policies. There was no plan offered to replace the policy sent out by the Obama Administration, stating that the policy lacked a validated vetting process and any real legal analysis. It was suggested that the policy should not have initially been made, and they concluded by simply stating that LGBTQ+ students should be given the same abilities to learn as all other students.
“To see that policy removed makes me disappointed and frustrated,” Martinez said. “I’m seeing again that forced invisibility, the denial of our rights and our existence, and the challenges it causes for our communities in Denver.”
The GLBT office in the Tivoli focuses on transgender students’ issues more than any other group of students because of the stigmas and stereotypes that are set forth about them. “Transgender students face the most oppression,” Director Steven Willich said. “The Trump Administration is trying to instill fear in the population about transgender people using bathrooms.”
Since the Trump Administration has given the power to decide to the states, many transgender people and advocates have been left feeling misunderstood and fearing for their rights.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand transgender people,” Christian said. “There’s a lot of confusion where people think ‘I don’t want a trans person to make me feel uncomfortable.’ If you’re uncomfortable, shouldn’t you be the person using another restroom? Because I’m just in there to pee and maybe do my makeup.”
Though the reversal won’t personally affect any transgender students on Auraria Campus, Willich is working with Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) to create a gender-inclusive bathroom in the Tivoli. “We’re working hard with AHEC and we’re hoping it’ll be a multi-stall restroom,” Willich said. The stalls will have long walls and doors to prevent anyone from seeing in or out of them.
Transgender people using a bathroom that aligns with their gender identity has become a growing point of contention over the past few years. Some argue that a person with a penis entering a women’s restroom could molest and abuse women. The opposing side argues that ‘transgender’ is not equivalent to ‘sexual deviant’ and resents this type of accusation.
“A lot of it is transphobia, but I can’t point to it because it doesn’t make sense to me,” Willich said. “I don’t care who goes into the restroom. Do your business, wash your hands, and leave.”
The Trump Administration’s reversal also opened a larger dialogue on why gender-neutral bathrooms are important, especially for students. “It’s really not about bathrooms,” Christian said. “Even before there were laws, transgender people have been using the restrooms they want since gendered bathrooms came into existence. When you go into a restroom with a trans person, there’s a very, very low chance that you’re going to see their genitals because there are stalls. If you see anyone’s genitals in the restroom, that’s a problem.”
Recently, there have been flyers posted around campus and in bathroom stalls stating that Auraria Campus strives to be an inclusive and safe space for all students, staff, and faculty. The responses to these messages have been mostly positive.
“I think the Auraria Campus is very welcoming for the most part,” Christian said. “But when I was first transitioning, I do remember seeing a sign in one of the women’s restrooms that said ‘Keep men out of the women’s restroom.’ It was discouraging to see that. However, I also saw several people had written on it calling them out.”
In a letter to CU Denver, Chancellor Dorothy Horrell addressed the reversal and ensured that it wouldn’t affect any transgender students on campus. “We wholeheartedly support our transgender students and employees and will continue to ensure that they receive all the protections necessary to ensure their equal participation in the life of the university,” Horrell said.
Though Martinez and Willich are grateful that Chancellor Horrell addressed and acknowledged transgender students, they felt underwhelmed and had hoped for a more inclusive message.
“At least it’s being mentioned,” Willich said. “But is it fully supportive and does it mention all the issues? No. I don’t think we value diversity enough. The university touts that as a strength of theirs, but I don’t know if enough is being done.”
Although the GLBT Office is a safe haven for many students, Martinez hopes the university will reach out and provide support specifically for transgender students and their needs.
“It acknowledges the truth and there are ways to ensure that our community holds accountable that truth,” Martinez said. “There has to be acknowledgement of what transgender students need and how the university makes public that those are in place.”