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Offering gender-neutral housing and more single-stall bathrooms are two things the University of Utah and other institutions could do to make their campuses more welcoming to transgender students and employees, a national advocate for transgender rights said Wednesday.
Pauline Park, who herself identifies as transgender, delivered the keynote address at the U.'s Pride Week. Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose internal sense of being a man or a woman or in between differs from their birth sex. Some people who are transgender may alter their bodies through hormones or surgeries to appear more in line with the gender with which they identify, but most do not, Park noted. Transgender also can describe cross-dressers or people who see themselves as "gender queer," rejecting the binary of female and male gender norms.
"I don't think I have a gender identity disorder. I think society has a gender identity disorder," Park said. "We all have a right to define who we are."
Park was born in Korea and adopted by German Lutheran parents in Wisconsin. She earned a doctorate in political science and later became an advocate for gender rights in New York, co-founding the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, the Out People of Color Political Action Club, and Queens Pride House. Her life story is featured in the 2008 documentary "Envisioning Justice: The Journey of a Transgendered Woman."
On Wednesday, she spoke about "transgendering the academy," calling for not only gender-inclusive housing and restrooms but also expanding transgender academic studies, recruiting transgender faculty members, adopting anti-discrimination policies and offering services and support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students. She suggested LGBT students could have a greater influence on their campuses by forming LGBT alumni associations after they graduate and directing donations to a scholarship or endowed chair focused on LGBT studies.
Park said she initially was surprised to learn the University of Utah has a LGBT Resource Center, which organized this week's Pride Week. The U. also has a policy that forbids discrimination against students, faculty, staff, visitors and patients based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
"We have a long way to go, but we are working towards becoming more and more inclusive as an institution," said Cathy Martinez, director of the LGBT Resource Center.
The center, she said, has posted informational fliers in the Olpin Union bathrooms to educate users that people who do not fit into stereotypical gender norms sometimes feel "policed" when they visit a public restroom and are told they are in the wrong bathroom. New buildings at the university do have single-stall, wheelchair accessible bathrooms, she said, which are a user-friendly alternative to segregated men's and women's restrooms. Such facilities also are welcome to caregivers helping a disabled person of the other sex, Martinez added.
Julian Monterio, a 26-year-old transgender student who heard Park speak, said it was "amazing" to have a transgender woman of color discuss issues faced by minorities, particularly when they belong to more than one minority group. Monterio has watched one friend struggle with finding an appropriate dorm at the university, where most housing is segregated by sex, even though he had a scholarship that covered housing. The friend, who was in the process of changing his identity from female to male, eventually found a single room on a co-ed floor, Monterio said.
"The university should have a policy for [transgender housing] that dictates good practice instead of just addressing it on an individual basis," he said. "It doesn't create change if it's just an individualized solution."
University of Utah's Pride Week
P Events this week are on the U. campus unless otherwise noted.
Film • Screening of the documentary "Toilet Training," 3 p.m., Thursday, Olpin Student Union theater. Free.
Performance • Doric Wilson's Street Theater, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Performing Arts Building Studio 115. Free for students, $10 for community members.
Pet pageant • Show off your dog or cat, 12:30 p.m., Friday, Olpin Student Union patio.
Benefit dinner • The annual "Gay-La" and silent auction helps fund the LGBT Resource Center scholarship, 6 p.m., Friday, Jewish Community Center, 2 N. Medical Drive, Salt Lake City. Tickets are $45 for students, $65 for nonstudents. To purchase, call 801-587-7973.