Update: Trans Utah student – Press release from Equality Utah and Utah Pride Center


The following is a press release from Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center on the anti-transgender discrimination faced by Southern Utah University student Kourt Osborn, originally reported at InterstateQ.com on Friday:

Utah Pride Center
355 North 300 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84103
801.539.8800
www.utahpridecenter.org

Equality Utah
175 West 200 South, Suite 3001
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
801.355.3479
www.equalityutah.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – December 17, 2007
Contacts:
Yana Walton: (801) 593-8800 x 23 or yana@utahpridecenter.org
Will Carlson: (801) 355-3479 or will@equalityutah.org

Transgender student denied campus housing at Utah college

CEDAR CITY, Utah – Dec. 14, 2007 – This week, a 22-year-old transgender student in Cedar City says he was denied campus housing because of his gender-identity and expression. Kourt Osborn (pictured right), decided to be open and honest about his gender identity as he prepared to attend courses Southern Utah University (SUU) in the Spring 2008 semester. SUU is a publicly funded state university. On December 1st, Kourt turned in his application into the housing department, in which he fully disclosed his gender identity. He never expected what came next – a decision to deny him housing in both the women’s and men’s campus dormitories.

Kourt, who currently resides in Kanab, Utah, says that he is being discriminated against. Attorney Will Carlson, the manager of public policy for Equality Utah, says that Kourt’s case “is unacceptable but unsurprising. The state legislature is about to consider a fair workplace bill, but housing is another arena where irrelevant traits get disproportionate weight.”

During the 2004-05 school year, Kourt lived in women’s housing at SUU. Since then he has lived full time as a man, so this time Kourt knew housing in the male dormitory was his only option. This time, he prepared a long essay explaining his circumstances to housing officials. In an effort to educate officials, he also detailed several issues that transgender people like himself must face. After submitting his application to live in the male dormitory, Kourt thought things were going as planned. When he received a message from housing officials on December 12th, he knew something was up.

On Thursday, December 13th, Kourt met with Neuman Duncan, Director of University Housing, for over an hour. During our conversation,” Kourt said, “Duncan told me that a sociology professor on campus believed I am ‘not truly a transsexual’ because I do not seek sexual reassignment surgery. Duncan refused to identify this professor, or the ‘team’ of people Duncan allegedly met with about my housing request. I don’t believe Duncan consulted with any experts on transgender issues either.” Kourt went on to say that his major is sociology, and now he must reconsider how comfortable he feels in that department.

Valerie Larabee, Executive Director of the Utah Pride Center, expressed concern about Kourt’s account of SUU’s actions saying that, “SUU administrators could have taken this opportunity to reach out and better understand the issues transgender students face as they seek access to public education. Their invasive requirements for Kourt to be granted access to housing are yet another example of the need for non-discrimination policies which include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.” “SUU has an opportunity to set the Utah standard for public education housing equality,” Larabee added.

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 my therapist that he has gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria; and
– official documentation that he has undergone sexual reassignment surgery.

Kourt claims he was told 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, he says the university has denied him placement in female housing, saying female residents may feel uncomfortable.

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. Kourt says a letter denying his housing application is in the mail.

“SUU is out of line,” says Carlson. “The University’s demands are very intrusive and even if Kourt gave the school all those documents, it would be in no better of a position to protect him or any other student than it was after Kourt explained his situation.” Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington DC has released a statement saying that “Southern Utah University is way behind the times with in regards to discrimination and old stereotypes of what a transgender person is. Almost every university in the country has already thought through this issue and come to the obvious understanding that ALL students need and deserve a safe and accepting campus. That a public university funded with public money would discriminate against a student this way should be troubling to all Utahans.”

At this time, Kourt says he is not allowed to live in any part of the public university’s campus housing, even though two of the four residence halls offer private bedrooms and private, lockable bathrooms (see attached floor plans). He is currently considering his options regarding how to proceed with the issue, and maintains that he is dedicated to eliminating discrimination at SUU. On Friday, December 14th, Kourt began the process of filing an official grievance with Dale Orton, Vice President of Student Services, yet he has been unable to set an appointment with them to date.

Kourt says he has officially changed his sex on his Utah issued driver’s license. Carlson says this establishes that Kourt is living as a man and that by denying him access to men’s housing, this may be a case of discrimination on the basis of sex, which is currently illegal in the state of Utah. “SUU has put Kourt in a double bind. If he had just marked ‘male’ or ‘female’ on his application, the school could have denied his application as misleading. But for being honest, the University is also penalizing him.”

“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?” Despite feeling the pain of being discriminated against, Kourt said he would still consider living in the dorms if he is allowed to do so, but wants to ensure that a university-wide policy change occurs so others do not have to experience this infringement on their rights as students and individuals. “I learned who I was in the dorms through the friendships I made there,” says Kourt. He would also appreciate a public apology from the housing administration.

In other parts of the country, other universities are taking the steps to ensure that housing discrimination does not occur on their campuses. 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. According to this their research, 23 colleges or universities across the nation currently offer some sort of gender-neutral housing policy, in whole or in part. Southern Utah University is not one of them.

Though the University of Utah’s nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation but not gender identity or expression, U of U’s Associate Director of Housing Barbara Remsberg says her school has always accommodated transgender students. “Even if the individual doesn’t want to check either male or female on their housing application, we meet with the student to ask them where they would feel most comfortable. We have placed several transgender students in both apartment style housing and in single rooms. This has happened over and over without any problems. We have never denied a student campus housing for being transgender.”

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Comments
4 Responses to “Update: Trans Utah student – Press release from Equality Utah and Utah Pride Center”
  1. Yana Walton says:

    Matt,

    Thank you for all your help. I realized that in the beginning of the 5th paragraph (the one that starts with: Valerie Larabee) I accidentally repeated her name and title, so you may want to remove that. I am not a good proofreader!

    Thank you again,

    Yana

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