President Trump’s recent decision to roll back protections for transgender students has the LGBTQ+ community at UCO worried.
FILE – In this May 17, 2016 file photo, a new sticker is placed on the door at the ceremonial opening of a gender neutral bathroom at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle. In late February, the Trump administration revoked guidelines issued by President Obama instructing schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their chosen gender identity. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
The Trump administration’s recent decision to roll back federal bathroom protections for transgender students has the University of Central Oklahoma’s LGBTQ+ community concerned.
A directive issued last year by former President Barack Obama allowed transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identities rather than their sex at birth.
President Trump revoked that initiative in late February, suggesting the matter should be handled at state and local levels.
While UCO’s inclusive policies prevent the school from being impacted by Trump’s order, it nonetheless has created a chilling effect among LGBTQ+ locals, said Dr. David Macey, assistant vice president for global and cultural competencies.
“It’s a source of very great concern,” Macey said. “The kind of measure that’s been taken sends a very powerful signal that trans people are not welcome or not accepted.”
Macey, who also is the faculty adviser for the Student Alliance for Equality (SAFE), said forcing transgender people to use bathrooms based on their birth sex can be dangerous.
“Overall, coupled with the fact that we see a lot of legislation at the state level that seems to be in many ways targeting the LGBTQ+ community, there’s a strong sense of really being challenged and unwelcome.”
UCO freshman and musical theater major Donald Fortner, 19, who asked to be called “DJ” and identifies as genderfluid, said the bathroom debate overcomplicates a simple task.
DJ doesn’t ascribe to a set gender identity and dresses masculine or feminine depending on the day, but said it’s easier to use a male restroom because it causes less conflict.
“The few times I used a female restroom, I’ve had nasty experiences,” DJ said.
A woman once chased DJ outside of a women’s restroom and into a parking lot.
“She was really, really nasty about it,” DJ said. “She went on a tirade and followed me to my car.”
From then on, DJ has chosen to primarily use men’s bathrooms in an attempt to avoid future confrontations.
Dr. Loren Gatch, political science professor and faculty adviser to the College Republicans of UCO, said the bathroom debate is more symbolic than practical.
While Gatch admits some conservatives are culturally and socially opposed to LGBTQ+ people, he said Republicans are more concerned about federal overreach.
“There’s a broad resistance of extending the meaning of Title IX beyond its original focus on [biological sex],” he said. “That initial understanding has now been turned into sexual orientation and sexual identity.”
Most conservatives are more uncomfortable with government encroachment than sharing a restroom with a transgender person, Gatch said.
“There’s a discomfort among conservatives with the idea that executive power is being used to stop states from doing what they want,” he said.
“Conservatives tend to be more cautious — if not downright resistant — to using government power in order to force people to act in certain ways.”
Macey said individuals at UCO are free to use whatever facilities they please, including locker rooms and restrooms.
There currently are a few gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, including the Nigh University Center, with plans to create more, he said.
For transgender students who might feel isolated or afraid, Macey said there are plenty of resources to help — including SAFE events, the UCO Center for Counseling and Well Being and countless other LGBTQ+ groups around the Edmond and Oklahoma City area.
DJ said today’s contentious political climate is an opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community to fight for their beliefs.
“Now is the time to go against the norm and advocate for yourself,” DJ said. “Though it’s hard and can be frightening, stand up and speak out.”
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments regarding transgender bathroom rights later this month.