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Trangendered Added To Anti-Bias Policy

By Keith J. Winstein


MIT has added protection for transgendered individuals to its Nondiscrimination Policy statement, making “gender identity” the first newly protected category since “sexual orientation” was added in 1981.

The change was part of a February proposal by the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgendered Issues Group that had been widely endorsed by student and faculty government groups.

Neither MIT nor the students seemed to expect the textual change to have a great practical effect. The proposal “states specifically that their proposal was not in reaction to problems on campus, but was, they thought, an important step to reaffirming and affirming MIT’s policy about equal opportunity and fair treatment,” said Philip Lima, the coordinator of staff diversity initiatives, who helped shepherd the proposal.

ROTC sentence also revised

MIT’s Academic Council, a group of deans and vice presidents, also voted to revise a sentence about MIT’s opposition to the military’s ban on open homosexuals participating in the Reserve Officer Training Corps or the military itself.

The new statement will no longer include the text, “On the recommendation of the Faculty, MIT is working to develop a modified on-campus ROTC program open to all students,” said Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75, the chairman of the ROTC Implementation Committee.

The sentence was added after MIT’s faculty voted in 1996 “to develop, in collaboration with the Department of Defense, ROTC units at MIT that are open to all MIT students and that encourage tolerance through inclusive participation in their programs.”

“At the time the original statement was published,” Clay said, “we were actually working very hard to create a different program, but that was not successful, and we did not update the language.”

“For a brief time that opportunity seemed to exist, but we weren’t successful,” he said. “That was what we were doing in ’96-’97. That’s not something we’re presently working on. Although if we had an opportunity to do, we would seize it just like we seized it in ’96-’97.”

“This is not a change in policy,” Clay said. “We are basically updating the statement.”

The sentence will be replaced with: “MIT continues to advocate for a change in DOD policies and regulations concerning sexual orientation, and will replace scholarships of students who lose ROTC financial aid because of these DOD policies and regulations,” using the abbreviation for Department of Defense.

The changes were approved by the Academic Council on Oct. 21 and appear to have been first disclosed last week. Several staff members involved in proposing the changes said yesterday they were unaware that Academic Council had approved the changes.

A Department of Defense spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.

GaMIT mixed on changes

Allen Rabinovich ’04, the president of GaMIT, a student organization of “Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders and Friends,” wrote in an e-mail that his group was somewhat disappointed the protection for transgendered individuals did not also include a protection for “gender expression,” as the LBGT Issues Group had proposed.

“While the two may not appear different, there is quite a big gap between them,” he wrote. “A person identifying him or herself as being of a particular gender may be willing to express a different gender or traits from a different gender -- and realistically, most of the prosecution and discrimination arises from a person’s appearance rather than the internal identity.”

“Despite that, however, we are extremely happy that MIT is one of the first institutions to add anything at all about gender identity to its non-discrimination statement,” he wrote.

MIT continues advocacy, Clay says

Clay stressed that the statement’s revision did not mark a step back from MIT’s advocacy for open homosexuals to be allowed in the military.

Since 1996, when the faculty voted to seek an integrated ROTC, the MIT ROTC programs have opened their credit-granting classes to all MIT students, and the Institute served as a friend of the court in an unsuccessful lawsuit that sought to challenge the “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” policy, Clay said.

But “discrimination still remains, and students are blocked from the scholarships and the opportunity to serve, which is what the main battle is all about,” Clay said.

MIT would like to challenge the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in court again, Clay said, but the Institute has no plans to join two recent lawsuits challenging the requirement that schools that receive military funding allow military recruiters on campus, because those lawsuits do not challenge the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy directly, he said.