The Trump administration’s proposed redefinition of gender would leave transgender students at UC Santa Barbara stuck in limbo between federal and state guidelines, according to Craig Leets, Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity director.
Leets said the proposed redefinition, which defines gender as the sex assigned at birth, would cause complications particularly with passports, social security cards and insurance benefits.
He has been working to advocate for LGBTQ students in higher education since 2012.
“It’s really complicated for a trans person to get their gender marker with the federal government,” he said. “If [the redefinition] were to go through, there would be no chance at all for a trans person to change that gender marker that is on record with the federal government.”
Transgender students travelling internationally run the risk of being held up in airports, both domestically and internationally.
“Their appearance might align with one gender and [if] their gender marker on their passport says something different, that can cause problems for people who are going through customs,” Leets said.
Insurance companies that operate across state lines would also be able to deny transgender students’ benefits, particularly to cover mental health or transitioning expenses, despite California’s more progressive laws.
“Many things are more than just state-specific… which is where federal guidelines come in,” Leets said.
California Senate Bill 179, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in Oct. 2017, would allow California residents three options for their gender on their driver’s licenses and birth certificates: male, female and nonbinary, which is denoted by an ‘x.’
The law fully goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, but the Trump administration’s attempts to redefine gender could override the state law.
“If the federal government were to change that definition it could really impact all of the progress that has been made,” Leets said.
On UCSB’s campus, students would not see any effects to the protections they are already afforded by the university and the state of California.
“UCSB has a nondiscrimination policy, and there are a set of protected classes who are legally protected in the state of California… so someone cannot be discriminated against in accessing housing or employment based on their gender, gender identity or gender expression,” Leets said.
“So our nondiscrimination policy, which aligns with those protected classes here in the state of California, would not be impacted or affected.”
The Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD) is currently working on two efforts to support transgender students on campus: first, by providing a community-building space for trans students on campus and second, by implementing policy changes within the university.
Currently, the center is working on cataloging the number and location of all-gender restrooms on campus. They are also trying to expand the preferred name option on Gaucho On-Line Data (G.O.L.D.) to include pronouns.
According to Leets, there are approximately 70 all-gender restrooms on campus, with the majority of those being single-stall restrooms.
Through the RCSGD’s work to establish a map of all-gender restrooms on campus, it has identified a corridor on Ocean Road by the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education and Robertson Gym where there are several buildings without a single all-gender restroom.
“If a student is in one of those classes, one of those buildings or they have multiple classes in those buildings, it’s really hard for them to find a restroom space that’s close enough by for them to get between classes or for them to go during a class,” Leets said.
Ideally, Leets would like to establish several all-gender restrooms in all buildings on campus, but says the more realistic goal is at least one in every building “so a student or faculty or staff-person would not have to leave the building that they’re in to have an accessible restroom option.”
The RCSGD is currently in the inventory phase of the project. Once it identifies priority spots, like the Ocean Road corridor, it will begin requesting funding and approval to convert existing restrooms to all-gender restrooms.
Leets said the center is also working with the university to expand the preferred name option already available for students.
For students who have not or cannot change their legal name, they can currently change their preferred name on G.O.L.D. This change will be reflected in numerous locations including their access card, GauchoSpace, G.O.L.D., advising records, the online campus directory and housing rosters.
“In many places, students will be able to see their preferred name and not have to interact with their legal name. That system is pretty good; we’re just trying to make sure it’s as good as it needs to be,” Leets said.
As a partner project, they are also working toward including pronouns in the university system in the same places the preferred name already appears.
Despite the work they’ve already done, projects like these often take longer than the center hopes them to.
“I think many people want to do that work [to support trans students] and are excited to do that work … The challenge that comes from any large organization [is], ‘Is the money there?’, ‘What’s the technical complications of making these changes,’” he said.
Leets said the center works closely with Vice Chancellor Margaret Klawunn and Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Maria Herrera-Sobek.
“Our role on campus is to be the leaders of the advocacy and improvement on campus for trans students,” Leets said.
“[The administration is] supporting the work that we are doing and help[s] us to make movement when we can’t ourselves to try and make campus more welcoming for trans students.”