Arizona State University has revised its nondiscrimination policy to include "gender identity," making it the fourth public university to extend such protections to transgender students and employees.
The amendment defines gender identity as "an individual’s personal sense of masculinity or femininity, includes external characteristics and behaviors such as dress, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions."
Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from their anatomical sex and has nothing to do with sexual orientation, said E. Tristan Booth, a transgender graduate student at ASU.
Violence against transgender people is becoming a national issue. Three men are on trial in Newark, Calif., in the brutal beating death of Eddie "Gwen" Araujo.
"Having a policy in place doesn’t mean nothing will ever happen," said Booth, who was born a woman and considers herself to be a gay man. "(The revision) is more symbolic but it could be used in specific instances."
For example, if a professor or classmate were to harass a male student for dressing too feminine, such behavior would clearly violate the university’s nondiscrimination policy.
The other three universities to include gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies are Ohio State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Washington.
"The university has taken another step forward in recognizing the rights of all students," said Kathie Gummere, public affairs director for the Arizona Human Rights Fund.
Booth, Gummere and other students approached the university six months ago about making the revision.
Initially university officials were hesitant because "it was always our policy to not allow any type of discrimination," ASU spokeswoman Nancy Neff said. But, "if by adding these words that policy is made even more clear, then that was the right thing to do."