The Office of University Life has released a statement in solidarity with Columbia’s transgender community, two days after the Trump administration’s announcement of a newly proposed interpretation of Title IX that would effectively erase the federal recognition of transgender Americans.
The statement, made by Executive Vice President for University Life Suzanne Goldberg and announced in an email to students from Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs Melinda Aquino, reinforces the University’s commitment to protecting transgender and nonbinary students, faculty, and staff. Barnard Dean of Studies Natalie Friedman and Executive Director of Residential Life and Housing Alicia Lawrence also sent an email of support to the Barnard community and held a listening session for students on Wednesday night.
Under the newly proposed definition, Columbia’s transgender or nonbinary students who are subject to discrimination on the basis of gender identity in utilizing health care, housing, or academic resources would not be able to vindicate their rights in a federal court.
Dale Jackson, SEAS ’22, who is a member of GendeRevolution’s Outreach and Health Committee, expressed their anxiety over the new proposal’s potential to eliminate transgender identity on a federal level.
“It’s scary to think that the laws that are put in place don’t allow you to express yourself as you truly [are],” Jackson said. “It makes you feel isolated, in the sense that the [federal government] that’s supposed to protect your freedoms is not going to protect them.”
The Trump administration’s proposed definition would roll back Obama-era policies that allow individuals protection under their preferred gender identifications. Under the new definition, 1.4 million Americans who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth would not be recognized by federal law and would be unable to file cases against gender-based discrimination.
Goldberg’s statement asserts that Columbia will continue to enforce the institution's policies that prohibit discrimination based on gender and sexual identity, consistent with New York City and state law.
The statement cites specific Columbia policies, including the policy allowing everyone on campus to use whichever restroom is most consistent with their gender identity, and the “preferred name” option on CUID cards as examples of Columbia’s maintained commitment to prohibiting transgender discrimination on campus.
Jackson said that while they were reassured by the statement, they were still concerned about whether the Columbia Student Medical Insurance Plan will continue to provide coverage for hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgery.
“It would be helpful if Columbia would affirm that they will find healthcare services that still cover [the surgery], because for many trans people on campus they rely on [the insurance plan] to be able to transition. Because under Columbia insurance coverage, it would be free,” Jackson said.
In her email, Dean Aquino also promised a commitment to “visibility and justice,” and directed students to campus resources for the trans community, including the Queer and Trans Student Advisory Board and the Queer and Trans Resource Team.
Currently, New York state protections were brought about by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 executive action, which intended to defend transgender people from discrimination. A bill amending the Human Rights Law to include protections for transgender people in the New York state legislature, however, has not passed in the state senate.