Guest Blogger

Transgender student denied campus housing at public Utah college

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 19, 2007 11:40 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Kourt Osborn, Southern Utah University, transgender, Utah

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[Editor's note:] This guest post comes to us from Matt Hill Comer, editor of the Carolinas queer publication, Q-Notes. Matt blogs at InterstateQ.

Demonstrating the need for gender neutral and inclusive housing policies for public and private universities across the nation, a 22-year-old transgender student in Utah has been denied campus housing specifically because of his gender-identity and expression.

kourt.jpg
Kourt Osborn (pictured left, during the Soulforce Equality Ride, March-April 2007), a youth activist who participated in the 2007 Soulforce Equality Ride, decided to be open and honest with his gender-identity when preparing to attend school at the public Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. Kourt approached the housing department prepared to deal with the issue of his life as a transgender person.

He prepared a long essay explaining to housing officials who he is and including some "Trans 101? type of basic lessons on transgender people and issues they must face.

Although Kourt said the process of getting housing -- he had applied to live in the male dorms -- was "bumpy and stressful," he thought things were going okay. But when he received a message from housing officials, he knew something was up.

For over an hour, Kourt met with Neuman Duncan, the director of university housing, on his way to take a math placement exam this week.

"During our conversation," Kourt said, "he told me that a sociology professor on campus believed I was 'not truly a transsexual' because I do not seek sexual reassignment surgery."

Kourt said the university will only allow him housing in male residence halls after he provides:

  • a letter from the doctor that monitors his hormone treatment;
  • a letter from his therapist saying that he has gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria; and
  • official documentation that he has had sexual reassignment surgery.

Kourt had already provided the housing department with a letter from a doctor who monitors his hormone treatment. For personal reasons, Kourt does not seek to be diagnosed with "gender identity disorder" and does not want to seek sexual reassignment surgery.

He said that if he did not present the three items requested by the university, then he would not be allowed to live in male housing. At the same time, the university has denied housing for him in female housing, as well.

At this time, Kourt is not allowed to live in any part of the public university's campus housing. He is currently considering his options and how to proceed with the issue.

"I thought it would be easiest to live in on-campus housing. I was wrong. Really wrong," he said. "I can find other places to live, but I believe this has gone far beyond just me.

"What about other trans-people that might want to live there?"

Commentary:

Picture yourself living in North Carolina 60 years ago:

There is a university for white students and a university for black students. A bi-racial student with a white mother and a black father approaches both universities for admittance. The white university says she cannot enroll because she is not white. The black university similarly says she cannot enroll because she is not black.

Although something like this scenario probably never would have happened -- as the bi-racial student would have most likely been accepted at the black university -- it helps to paint a picture that surely helps illustrate an important point: When people do not fit into a structured, discriminatory and binary system, the chances of discrimination against that person goes up... way up.

Such is the case with Kourt. He is a person who does not fit into society's tidy binary system on gender. Because he has transgressed society's gender rules, the discrimination he faces on a daily basis -- including the denial of housing at a public university -- is very real and hardly ever subtle.

The National Student Genderblind Campaign, founded and currently led by Guilford College (Greensboro, N.C.) student David Norton, was formed to battle just this kind of situation. The Campaign encourages education, awareness and policy work to create new avenues for gender-neutral housing on college campuses.

This is what the Campaign says on their website concerning why everyone should care about campus housing-related gender issues:

  • University mandated gender-based segregation is a gross and arbitrary infringement to our right as students -- and our license as adults -- to self-determination.
  • Traditional rooming policies -- those without gender-neutral options -- are heterosexist, oppressive, and anti-affirmative:
    1. they marginalize gay, lesbian, bisexual, and students of various sexual orientations who feel comfortable, or more comfortable, rooming with someone of the opposite sex/gender;
    2. they alienate transgender, genderqueer, and intersexed students who are forced into discriminatory, gendered rooming situations based on biological/legal sex rather than gender identification;
    3. they assume that men and women can never, and will never, live together non-sexually given the choice to do so;
    4. and they needlessly reinforce an oppressive gender binary and perpetuate gender segregation.
  • Gender-restrictive policy is an everyday, yet often unnoticed, manifestation of institutional heterosexism. At its core -- in a heterosexually dominated culture -- heterosexism assumes that heterosexual relationships represent the norm and are, therefore, implicitly superior to "non-normative" relationships.

According to the Campaign (PDF), only 23 colleges or universities across the nation currently offer some sort of gender-neutral housing policy, in whole or part. Southern Utah University is not one of them.

***

Addendum by Alex: Since Matt posted this on his site last week, the Southern Utah University has responded:

[A letter] has to state clearly, by a doctor, are we dealing with a male student or a female student, because that's the only two kinds of housing we have on our campus." Voice of Dean O'driscoll, who is the assistant to the school's president.

O'driscoll, who is the assistant to the school's president, says Kourt has not been denied housing in the male dorms. His application has not even been considered because he hasn't provided the proof the school needs.

O'driscoll admits proof of gender is not required of all students -- just those who are transgender.

And Kourt filed a formal complaint. From NCTE XD Mara Keisling:

That they would requires someone to have surgery to live in the dorm is just wrong. It's absolutely irrelevant. They don't ask anyone else for proof of gender. They shouldn't be checking his genitals. Universities shouldn't be making medical decision for students. That should be left up to patients and doctors.

Yeppers.


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So is the school willing to provide student health insurance that will cover sex reassingment surgery? Since most private insurace companies don't cover the surgery, I'm willing to bet that the answer is no. Of course this is irrelevent since Kourt doesn't want surgery. But I think it proves the point that the school is just making arbitrary, discriminatory standards.

It's Southern Utah, though. Is anyone really surprised?

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | December 19, 2007 1:22 PM

It's Southern Utah, though. Is anyone really surprised?

Unfortunately this sort of discrimination is widespread throughout the USA and so Kourt could find himself without campus housing almost anywhere because there is no federal law making such discrimination illegal.

By comparison, I just helped a young FtM student find housing here in Dublin. It's off-campus, but that's due to a housing shortage, not discrimination. His rooms are official Trinity College supervised student housing. University and student union officials bent over backwards to assist my friend, with the housing, and financial aid and grants. They also helped him get his correct name on all class lists and on his student ID. They're available to help him if he experiences any problems, or needs any sort of help. And there was never a question about hormones or surgery. As a matter of fact, my friend has had neither. All he needed was a letter certifying that he has, indeed, been diagnosed with GID.

While I understand that such a diagnosis is controversial with some trans people, in this case my friend was afforded priority on the housing list and given help on the basis of the diagnosis. And rightly so, in my opinion. His mother had threatened to kick him out. His future success as a freshman was dependent on him having a safe place to live and study, and the ability to attend classes as himself. And it was to THAT end that the university organisation cooperated.

FYI, I started grabbing Q Notes back in the late 90's whenever I was in Chapel Hill.

Excellent paper.

Great story, Brynn!

Things like what happened to Kourt, though, just make me mad. There's a stunning lack of creativity in the school's response here.

Alex is right... Kourt's situation really is maddening. It is obvious to any one with a sane mind that the school's "policies" are clearly a lame excuse for discrimination.

Thanks for the compliments on Q-Notes Storm. :) We certainly hope that Q-Notes will be growing soon. We'll be doing a complete re-haul on the website soon.

I have to agree Kourt's situation is upsetting...
If he were in California i would think this wouldn't be a problem...

We do have to consider this is Utah.
They don't drink and they don't use caffeine.

They do eat massive quantities of sugar in various form.

I have to admit some of the green Jello recipes sound good like green jello vegetable salad and green jello tuna said.

i only bring this up because a survey was conducted earlier in the year listing America's happiest states and no kidding Utah was dead last.
I am a firm believer in dietary causes of mental disorders and i have always thought refined sugar to be more damaging then alcohol.

well that is my two cents, time for another can of V8. Somebody want to buy me a Norwalk Juicer?


Take care
Sue

Thanks for guest posting, Matt. You did a great job with this maddening story.

Janis Walters | December 20, 2007 7:43 AM

Matt, thanks for posting this story of grave injustice. I have known Kourt for a couple of years and have had the pleasure of working with him on issues of justice and equality. I recently sat on a panel discussion with him at a university in Arkansas on Transgender Day of Remembrance. He is a very committed young man who is determined to advocate and educate for equal rights and justice. That the university in Utah would deny such an intelligent and committed student such as Kourt housing based on his genital configuration is appalling. This public institution dedicated to higher education needs further education itself in equality and non-discrimination. I know Kourt will not give up on this fight for fairness. He needs our support and encouragment in his struggle for equal rights.

Janis