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Schools look at needs of transgender students

COAST CITIES — When student Jack Cady started this past semester at California State University San Marcos, his preparation for new classes included an extra step beyond buying books and reading the syllabus. He also had to reach out to each of his new professors to ensure that they do not refer to him as female or call him by his birth name. 

Cady said he sent each professor an email explaining, “Hey, I’m a trans-student, this is the name I want to use, these are the pronouns you should be using.”

Cady began questioning his gender identity in 2011, and started his transition from female to male during the summer of 2012.

Like other transgender college students, he has had to search for resources on campus that meet his needs, at times finding that the policies addressing transgender students are scarce, if they even exist at all.

Over the past several years, San Diego’s colleges and universities have been following a national trend of providing increasing support and establishing policies that address the needs of transgender students.

But when measured by the standards set by the Transgender Law and Policy Institute, most of these schools’ current resources and policies are basic, and require expansion before transgender students are fully accommodated.

“(CSUSM staff are) very receptive here, they just don’t know much because (addressing transgender students’ needs is) a new thing,” Cady said. But he believes that transgender students have had to initiate and push for schools to get resources on campus.

He said that in particular, “the bathroom situation is stressful here.”

He specifically uses CSUSM’s only gender-inclusive restroom on campus in the Gender Equity Center.

“I’m getting to the point (in my transition) where if I go into the women’s bathroom, I get yelled at, and if I go into the men’s bathroom, I don’t think I’m at a point where I can pass well enough and I’m afraid I could get hurt,” he said.

To best support transgender and other gender-nonconforming students, the Transgender Law and Policy Institute recommends that colleges and universities establish nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity/expression and policies that allow students to change their name and gender on campus records, as well as offer gender inclusive-housing and insurance plans that cover transition-related medical expenses.

Currently, all colleges and universities in California include gender identity and expression in their nondiscrimination policies in accordance with state laws passed in 2003.

The local community colleges, MiraCosta College and Palomar College, as well as San Diego County’s largest universities, CSUSM, SDSU, UCSD, and USD, are no exception, but otherwise differ in their resources for transgender students.

UCSD is the only school with an official policy for students who wish to change their name and gender on campus records. However representatives for the other colleges and universities reported that while an official policy doesn’t exist, students are allowed to make the changes to campus records and are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Only some of the schools have built gender-inclusive restrooms on campus over the past few years, the exceptions being CSUSM and USD.

Also with the exception of USD, all other county universities offer a gender-inclusive housing option.

UCSD is one of the 36 colleges and universities in the country that offers student health insurance plans that cover transition-related medical expenses, which includes hormone therapy and gender reassignment/confirmation surgeries, according to the Transgender Law and Policy Institute. Student health insurance did not cover such expenses at any school in the U.S. six years ago.

Transition-related medical expenses are not covered under policies offered by SDSU and USD, while CSUSM, MiraCosta College and Palomar College do not offer comprehensive health insurance plans for students.

Each of the schools also offers some form of support group for students questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity including Safe Space Allies or Gay-Straight Alliance.

It is unknown how many transgender students go to school at each of these local colleges and universities, as their numbers among student populations are not counted.

Representatives for the schools reported that the numbers are small, but also said that resources and policies are being created at the request of students over the last 10 years.

Aaron Bruce, chief diversity officer at SDSU said that all of the university’s offerings for transgender students were established just over the past five years in response to a national push for LGBTQ civil rights.

By request of a student task force this fall, CSUSM plans to have gender-inclusive restrooms available on campus by the end of this semester, according to Margaret Lutz Chantung, the university’s public information officer.

Efforts to provide resources at MiraCosta College has been led by students, according to the college’s Director of Communications Cheryl Broom. She said that MiraCosta College students are “passionate about creating resources for themselves and other students.”