Providing services and accommodations for transgendered students has become one of the fastest moving issues on many college campuses today. Gender-neutral restrooms, gender-inclusive housing, participation on sports teams, the ability to change names officially, and transgendered-sensitive counseling are just a few of the concerns becoming more commonly addressed at American colleges and universities. If this issue has not arisen on your campus yet, you can be sure that it will within the next few years. Student Affairs professionals can be in a position to take the lead or to serve as a resource to the senior leadership of the university, who may have no background in understanding the issues that transgendered individuals face.
One of the issues of greatest concern—and perhaps some of the greatest policy implications—is that of transgender health care, in particular, the facilitation and support of gender-confirming surgery. Just several years ago, no colleges offered transgendered health care services, and now the list of colleges and universities covering transition-related health insurance numbers 51, growing rapidly. According to Campus Pride, a national organization working to create safer college environments for LGBT students , an even greater number of schools cover other services such as hormone service and gender neutral laboratory tests. Both public and private universities have joined this trend, though state political climate, religious affiliation, student activism, and board dynamics all inform the climate for these decisions. Last summer, the University of North Carolina’s board imposed a blanket ban on gender neutral housing, sparking a student protest at the next board meeting.
The issue of transgender health care is a natural outgrowth of the adoption of gender identity and or gender expression as part of an institution’s non-discrimination policy. Campus Pride documents 730 colleges and universities that have nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity/ expression.
Though typically small in number at any college or university, this population brings significant needs to the college or university environment. Heartfelt stories of bullying, discrimination, confusion, and family rejection can be heard from these students, who often display remarkable resilience in the face of societal ambivalence or hostility. Colleges should be among the most sensitive and welcoming environments for these students.
According to the American Medical Association (AMA), “an established body of medical research demonstrates the effectiveness and medical necessity of mental health care, hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery as forms of therapeutic treatment for many people diagnosed with [Gender Identity Disorder]” and goes on to resolve that the AMA support public and private health insurance coverage for treatment of gender identity disorder.
Adam Crawford with the LGBT Equity Center at the University of Maryland, College Park conducted a benchmarking study of 14 colleges and universities, both public and private.
One of the greatest issues of concern is the impact on student health insurance premiums. Crawford found that 12 of the institutions he surveyed did not experience an increase in premiums as a result of adding such services, while two schools did experience a small (1-2%) increase in premiums.
Last summer, the Departments of Justice and Education reached a settlement agreement with a K-12 system in California that may ring a warning bell for higher education. They jointly determined that California's Arcadia School District violated Title IX by barring a transgender student from sex-specific facilities and activities. As colleges enroll an increasing number of transgendered students, and as these students connect to networks and services, we can predict that an increasing number may turn to the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights if they believe they are not receiving equal treatment.
Student Affairs professionals have a long history of advocating for the rights of those who are oppressed or marginalized on their campuses and building inclusive communities free from discrimination and harassment. The savvy professional will become educated about the fast-moving policy developments in serving transgendered students and knowledgeable about the resources available to help campuses make sound decisions.
News coverage of interest
Transgender information resources
American Medical Association resolution
American College Health Association resources