Ore. Trans Student Sues Christian University Over On-Campus Housing Denial
BY Parker Marie Molloy
April 04 2014 6:10 PM ET
A transgender student at an Oregon Christian university has been denied school housing on the basis of his gender identity.
Jayce Marcus of Portland is a transgender man and a sophomore at George Fox University, located in Newberg, Ore. Like many of the school's students, he applied for on-campus housing, aiming to be housed in one of the school's male dormitories.
PQ Monthly, a Portland-based LGBT magazine, obtained a letter from George Fox University's dean of community life, Mark Pothoff. In the letter, Pothoff explained that the school had denied the student's request for housing, as it is in the process of revising its housing policy to explicitly state that students must be housed with students of the same assigned birth sex, citing the school's "theological and philosophical statement."
After a failed attempt to sort matters out with the school, attorney Paul Southwick, who represents Marcus, filed a Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education today, alleging discrimination. The school's treatment of Marcus may also violate the Oregon Equality Act, which specifically prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
"The university violated Jayce's rights under Title IX because they denied him on-campus housing on the basis of his sex, gender identity and transgender status," Southwick told PQ Monthly. "The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division recently determined that 'all students, including transgender students and students who do not conform to sex stereotypes, are protected from sex-based discrimination under Title IX and Title IV."
George Fox University did offer Marcus a conditional one-year waiver from the school's off-campus housing regulations. He was originally offered the ability to live off campus with other men provided that the school ensured that his potential roommates were briefed on Jayce's trans history, and that he legally changed his name and gender on his driver's license, Social Security card, and birth certificate by June 1.
Because Marcus was born in Tennessee, a state that prohibits a change of gender on birth certificates, he would not be able to comply with those restrictions. The school agreed to remove that requirement. At a later date, the school also offered Marcus the option to stay in a single dorm room on-campus, though that generated concerns that isolation from the rest of the student body would be a form of discrimination in itself.
"While I appreciate university administrators meeting with me regarding my housing requests, their ultimate decision makes me feel rejected, misunderstood, and punished for something I cannot change," Marcus told PQ Monthly. "It also makes me anxious and nervous about where I'll be able to live next year — and the year after that — especially if their housing policy based on 'biological birth sex' goes into effect."
Marcus expressed a desire to be able to live on campus, noting that he has a number of friends and supporters at George Fox.
"I'm also not the only trans student on campus," Marcus added. "I love the people at George Fox University. The students and faculty have been very supportive of me. I'd like to be able to live on campus with my friends next year."
On Friday afternoon, the university published a response to the pending lawsuit on its website, claiming that the school's position had been mischaracterized by Marcus's attorney and subsequent media reports. That statement, which also contends that Marcus has on many occasions told administrators that he has felt "safe, listened to, supported and cared for" by students, faculty and residential staff, continues, in part:
"Over the past several months, George Fox Student Life staff has spent many hours with this student hearing his story and offering support. Out of respect for the student’s wishes, university staff refers to the student using the male pronoun. At this time, the student has not legally changed genders…
"George Fox strives to be a Christ-centered community and our residential facilities are single sex because of our theological commitments. The student’s request to switch from female-only on-campus housing to male-only on-campus housing is one that many institutions would struggle with.
"While the university did not grant his request to live on campus with males, the student was not denied on-campus housing. He was offered the option of an on-campus single apartment with a commitment from Student Life to ensuring he stayed socially connected to the community.
"The university has researched the student’s attorney’s legal claims and believes they are without merit, especially given the religious nature of the university.
"The university has made many efforts to provide support and accommodation for the student and remains committed to his academic, physical and spiritual welfare."