While Gonzaga’s lesbian, gay and bisexual community has become increasingly vocal and visible over the years, less attention has been given to its transgender students until recently. This year, GU began plans to institute an official policy that could make the campus more inclusive toward them.
There is no official code or source that clearly outlines the procedure for doing so, but the school currently supplies transgender students with help and guidance through the LGBT resource center.
“There are players from all across the university looking at this,” Jaime Hollis, the coordinator for special population, said.
According to Hollis, one important motivator has been Washington state law, which defined sexual identities as a protected class.
“We really want to be intentional in alignment with those policies and making sure that we are protecting them just like we would any racial minority, or sexual orientation or any other class of diversity,” Hollis said.
These new policies would focus on specific areas of the college system that could create barriers for transgender students. Some of these changes would include the addition of gender-neutral bathrooms, a system in which students in transition can discretely change their name on all school-related records, a policy that would permit transgender students to live in the residence where they are most comfortable, as well as make medical resources easily available and non-discriminatory.
Hollis said transgender students can get assistance in some of these areas through the LGBT resource center. She has arrangements with housing and the registrar’s office that allow her to help transgender students. Despite these arrangements, Hollis said that the official policy is still important because it would help students and faculty better understand what to do in these situations.
According to Hollis, not having these policies in place could lead to negative consequences for transgender students. For example, a teacher who could inadvertently read a transgender student’s old name during roll call because no system is in place for the student to change his or her name.
“An unintentional outing can cause a situation of hostility if other students aren’t accepting and understanding because a roster was read wrong,” Hollis said. “Because Mike was said instead of Michelle, we’ve created a situation in that moment.”
Hollis said making these changes is especially significant because she finds it likely that more transgender students will attend GU in the future.
“If you look at the trend, [with] access to the Internet people are identifying younger as transgender because they now have the language to identify what they’re going through,” Hollis said. “Because of those dynamics, I think it’s really likely that we’re going to see an increase in trans students at all levels of education.”
Hollis wants a system to be in place before the school has to deal these challenges.
HERO Vice President Anna Olson said that she does not know of any transgender students in the club or on campus.
“In the wider LGBT community, we usually focus on gays and lesbians, but way in the back are the bisexuals and even farther out in the cold is the trans community, which is really unfortunate,” Olson said. “So we try to bring to attention to the fact that we should always include transgender students.”
During Pride Week, HERO plans to host a Trans Day of Remembrance via a candlelight vigil on the Crosby steps for students to gather to remember the transgender people who died in 2013 from violence.
Olson attributes the quietness of the transgender students to the risks that may result from coming out in Spokane.
“GU is one of those weird campuses where you really don’t know what to expect,” Olson said. “It’s Catholic, but it’s Jesuit. It’s Washington, but it’s Eastern Washington.”
The process of coming out can be especially complicated for transgender students. Nationwide, transgender people face higher levels of violence as well as higher levels of suicide. According to the American Psychological Association, transgender people attempt suicide at a rate 25 times higher than the general population.
While GU’s transgender population may not be very visible, it certainly exists.
Gianni Giuliani is a fourth-year graduate student who is also transgender.
“For me, personally, I haven’t had very many problems on campus,” said Giuliani. “But, then again, I live off campus and I’m an older student.”
Giuliani said he faces no major challenges on campus today, but he said that things were harder for him as an undergrad at GU from 2005 to 2009 when he was in the middle of his transitioning process.
“It was really uncomfortable having to change my name and gender through the registrar’s office,” said Giuliani. “Although they weren’t particularly nasty to me, it was just kind of an odd feeling ... I felt they could have been more accepting of what that process is all about.”
While Giuliani is an out and active member of the Spokane transgender community and regularly volunteers at the Inland Northwest LGBT resource center, he has never made a point of coming out on campus.
“I wasn’t out.” Giuliani said. “I never tried to blend in and make a big deal of it. I didn’t tell anyone. I just tried to integrate so people probably just assumed I was another guy. I might not have taken that route if there were policies in place to ensure safety and inclusion. I’d have felt like it was OK to come out.”
While Giuliani did know about the LGBT resource center before, he never thought to go to the center for help during his transitional period. In the end, he was able to navigate the complications of the transition process at GU with the help of his academic adviser.
In 2004, GU became the first Jesuit university to provide students with an LGBT resource center. Other Jesuit universities have since implemented similar programs. Most notable is Georgetown University, which received a $1 million donation for its LGBT resource center in 2011. According to Hollis, Georgetown is the top example of what Jesuit universities should be striving for. On the far end of the spectrum are the many universities not doing anything for transgender students.
While GU falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of Jesuit institutions, Hollis said the addition of an official policy would help. She said the lack of a visual stated policy might hinder transgender students from considering GU as a potential school.
“What we want to do here is remove barriers for them,” Hollis said. “If we don’t, it could result in them not staying here or thinking college, anywhere, isn’t for them.”