In Transition: Campus joins conversation on transgender rights

Photo credit: Karyn Simpson

By Molly Atchison | Opinion Editor

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a four-part series about gender transition and the issues surrounding it. For the personal safety of the individuals below, last names have been omitted.

The debate over the rights of transgender people in the United States has arrived at a boiling point. There are many aspects to acknowledge when discussing this issue, from the question of political authority over the matter at large to the minute details of which restroom a transitioning person should use. The facts of this debate can be convoluted and hard to find, but they do exist.

The facts are these: In many cases – but not all – a transgender individual displays symptoms of “gender dysphoria,” which, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “involves a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify. People with gender dysphoria may be very uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned, sometimes described as being uncomfortable with their body – particularly developments during puberty – or being uncomfortable with the expected roles of their assigned gender.”

The APA website includes genetic conditions along with this psychological condition that can cause similar disassociation in someone’s psyche, such as Klinefelter Syndrome and several other hormonal imbalance disorders.

This January, McLennan County junior Jessica participated in Baylor’s Panhellenic recruitment week. Jessica is a little over one year into the male-to-female (MTF) transition process, which put her in a unique position as she went through the process of rushing Baylor’s eight Panhellenic sororities. Although she did not complete the recruitment process for academic reasons, Jessica has sparked conversation among Baylor students about this controversial topic.

“Until about two years ago, I didn’t realize transition was possible. I figured, if I really wanted this, I’d have to deal with criticism eventually. If I could deal with it before [transitioning], I’d be able to deal with it after,” Jessica said.

New laws, bills and court cases that regard transgender individuals and their rights are passed regularly — the House bill that recently passed in North Carolina now legally requires people using public facilities to use the restroom that coincides with the gender on their birth certificate, whether or not they identify that way. A similar bill is currently being debated in Texas Legislature with a decision expected in early March. A breakdown of bills being proposed in each state is provided on the National Conferences of State Legislatures website. There are now 12 states with pending or proposed legislation that address bathroom laws.

While there are many supporters of the transgender community in the United States, there are also many who disagree with the concept of transgender people on varying levels and many who disagree on the way legislation should be addressed as well.

“We believe, no matter what sexual orientation one subjects themselves to, that every American should be treated equally under the outlined rights in the constitution. Regarding the restroom bill, we advise that the federal government should leave it to the sate to decide on the issues,” the Baylor College Republicans said in a statement.

The transgender community is a minority with a rising voice. According to a 2016 study at the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles, there are roughly 1.4 million adults in the United States that identify as transgender. This debate over the rights of transgender citizens has become a trending topic across the country and the world, and has even reached the grounds of the Baylor campus.

Baylor has a diverse student body, which can result in many different opinions.

“There haven’t been many instances where I haven’t felt accepted, but even so, I wish there were less. We’re ordinary people, just like you, we have the same dreams, visions, desires as any individual,” Jessica said.

Jessica is not the only transgender student to lobby for acceptance in all groups; a student going through a MTF transition at the University of Michigan attempted to complete the rush process in February 2016. Jessica and the University of Michigan student, both of whom identify as women, have been among the first in the young transgender community to openly attend rush events in search of new friendships and a home within their university.

Waco junior Margo is an active member of Baylor Sexual Identity Forum, an unofficial organization, and had a lot to say about the way members of the LGBT community fit in to the Baylor community.

“Besides the general safety issue, I found that so few people are educated about the subject that I end up having to give a whole lecture about who I am,” Margo said. “I want people to accept me as who I am without putting me in a strange box. I already get weird stares going into the female bathroom because my hair is short. I think people just need to educate themselves on the community and the terms we use. Be open to respecting other people even if their views don’t align with your own. It does no one any good to discriminate against other people just because you don’t understand them.”