Speaking against injustice is seldom a pleasant endeavor. The difficulty is amplified when the speaker and the victim are one and the same. Nonetheless, I derive empowerment from the countless people before me who chose to defy the status quo with bold cries for social change. With my words, I can only hope that I might empower the disenfranchised, rebuke the voices of hatred, and motivate the apathy stricken.
My name is Erin Bunch, and I am a third year student at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine. I also happen to be a transgender woman (pronouns: she/her/hers). Overall, I’m grateful that most of my peers and professors treat me with nothing but the utmost respect. Unfortunately, lapses exist for certain persons and in certain situations.
Most frequent (and benign) are instances of misgendering (e.g. being referenced with
“he” instead of she). More maliciously, my gender identity has been the subject of various jokes and insensitive/disrespectful comments. Two recent examples come to mind. While entering the women’s locker room in Vidant Medical Center, I was soundly greeted with an exclamation of “that is a man!” In another instance, while discreetly correcting an instance of being misgendered, I was embarrassed in front of several people as said person loudly stated that they “knew what was going on” and that they could “see [my] boobs and Adam’s apple.” In both instances, others were present, and nobody spoke up on my behalf.
As a student, these situations have proven difficult to navigate. Far too often, I’ve
resigned myself to inaction, feeling paralyzed by fears of indifference and retaliation. On the rare occasions where I found the courage to broach my concerns (names/titles intentionally omitted), I regularly encountered either placation of my experiences or direction to yet another
person/office. Such responses yielded an implied attitude: that the problem is mine alone and that I’m expected to solve it by myself.
On a positive note, over the past few weeks, I was finally able to recruit active advocates for my behalf. Specific thanks go out to the following Brody offices: Office of Diversity Affairs, Office of Student Affairs, and Office of Student Development and Academic Counseling.
Current protections for LGBTQ students at ECU are primarily contingent on the acceptance displayed by most members of our community. However, when this first line of defense fails, the affected student will likely turn to ECU’s Nondiscrimination Policy, which is based on the same policy enacted by the UNC Board of Governors.
While this policy yields contentment beneath its umbrella for relevant voices of social justices, I perceive it to suffer from a fatal flaw. In ECU’s policy, it states that “[ECU] is committed to equality of opportunity and prohibits unlawful discrimination based on…. sexual orientation, gender identity.” This begs the question: what actions are deemed “unlawful” towards LGBTQ students?
At the state level, per 2017’s HB 142 (i.e. the reluctant compromise that repealed HB 2,
also known as the “bathroom bill”), a moratorium remains in effect until December 2020 that
prevents all local jurisdictions from passing nondiscriminatory ordinances for LGBTQ persons.
At the federal level, the only relevant provision is Title IX, a subsection of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. In short, Title IX prohibits, “on the basis of sex,” discrimination
within educational institutions receiving federal funding. For clarity, ECU falls within the
jurisdiction of Title IX.
In 2016, the Obama Administration announced that it would begin invoking Title IX policy with regards to discrimination against LGBTQ students. However, in 2017, the Trump Administration narrowed this scope, restricting LGBTQ discrimination to that “based on a student’s failure to conform to stereotyped notions of masculinity and femininity.”
Additionally, the current administration specifically withdrew active support regarding the usage of appropriate restrooms/locker rooms by gender diverse persons. These changes seemingly omit sexually diverse individuals from Title IX protections. As for gender diverse persons, their protections under Title IX are uncertain at best.
Based on my personal experiences and my research of relevant policies, I believe that the LGBTQ community at ECU remains significantly vulnerable to acts of discrimination, with
emphasis placed on acts verbal in nature. I opted to share my own negative experiences as a
student, such that they might serve as testimony to this vulnerability.
Although we are strong and resilient, we continue to suffer under the noxious cloud of stigma, which stifles our cries for equal treatment. To those within ECU’s administration who value our success and well-being, I implore you to hear these concerns and to take concrete action.
If you choose to relegate this matter as being somebody else’s responsibility, then your inaction ultimately serves as an affirmation of things remaining as they are.