HRC Vanderbilt wants transgender equality on campus

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A press release issued by the Human Rights Campaign of Vanderbilt is calling on a coalition of undergraduates, graduate and professional students, members of the faculty, and other University employees to compel Vanderbilt University officials to update Vanderbilt’s non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies to protect transgender individuals from unfair discrimination and other acts prohibited by these policies.

The petition calls for the addition of "gender identity or expression" as protected classes within the language of both statements. The release says HRC Vanderbilt hopes to collect at least 1,000 student signatures and 150 employee signatures by March 1.

According to the HRC Foundation, "transgender" is an umbrella term for "anyone who does not conform to stereotypical gender norms."

For years, Vanderbilt has been infamously regarded by organizations such as The Princeton Review as being one of the most homophobic campuses in America.

"In contrast, just last year Duke and Emory universities, both southern private institutions like Vanderbilt, added protections for transgender students and employees to their policies," the release said. "As of September 2007, at least 150 other U.S. campuses had similar policies in place. Fully 60% of all transgender Americans have been victimized by hate violence, according to the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force."

Nick Wells, a Vanderbilt senior who serves as president and founder of HRC Vanderbilt (and serves on the Human Rights Campaign’s Nashville Steering Committee), urged students, faculty and staff to sign the petition.

"It’s time that Vanderbilt starts leading the way in civil and human rights policies rather than being a reluctant follower. We have a moral obligation to protect transgender students and employees from unfair discrimination and hate-based harassment," Wells said in the release. "Non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies help communicate the values of a university. HRC Vanderbilt’s broad-based grassroots strategy for changing these policies will deliver a call to action, which will be virtually impossible for the administration to ignore."

Randy Tarkington, who is Vanderbilt’s interim senior director of residential education and HRC Vanderbilt’s faculty advisor, said he was proud to see HRC Vanderbilt lead the push for equality.

Tarkington also served as executive director of Tennessee’s "Vote No on 1" campaign, which fought the passage of  Tennessee’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2006.

"I am proud that HRC Vanderbilt has dedicated itself to ensuring that all members of our Vanderbilt community are treated with dignity and equality," Tarkington said. "We need to include gender identity and expression in our non-discrimination statement to fully realize this goal. I hope everyone will join with us by signing the petition and sending the message that we need to do all we can to protect our transgender friends, classmates, and colleagues from discrimination and harassment."

  • HRC Non-Discrimination Petition—Students [PDF]
  • HRC Non-Discrimination Petition—Employees [PDF]