MINOT, N.D. — When it comes to the conflict over gender identity, and pronouns, I come down on the side of being polite. If someone feels more comfortable identifying as a certain gender or being referred to in a certain way, I'll do my best to comply.
As my grandma used to tell me, courtesy costs us nothing, and it can mean everything.
But should misgendering someone, or failing to use their requested pronouns, be classified as, and punishable as, discrimination? Should a person, born male, be able to use a woman's restroom or locker room based on nothing other than their declared gender identity?
According to a proposed policy at the University of North Dakota, that would be the case.
"The gender inclusion policy is not in active yet. It is still open for comment," UND spokesman David Dodds told me when contacted for comment. "The comment period will close on Friday (Oct. 22). After that, comments will be considered in the final version of the document before going to executive council for discussion/endorsement prior to the president’s signature after which the policy will become active."
The proposal states the reason for the policy is to "ensure every member of the UND community is free from discrimination based upon their gender identity and/or gender expression and has equal access to UND-sponsored programs and activities."
"A student or employee may use a chosen name, rather than their legal name, whenever possible in the course of University business and education, as long as the use of a chosen name is not for the purpose of misrepresentation," the proposed policy states. "University members may also specify the pronouns and other gendered personal references used to refer to them. A student or employee need not provide documentation, medical or otherwise, to indicate their chosen name and/or pronoun. When a chosen name and/or pronoun is specified, UND will use that name and/or pronoun, except as legally or administratively required."
Everyone on campus will be required to use the chosen names and genders. "Individual campus members and departments will use the names, gender identities, and pronouns specified to them by others, except as legally or administratively required," the proposal states. "Individual campus members will use others rendered personal references, if any, that are consistent with the gender identities and pronouns specified by campus members. Intentionally misgendering an individual (addressing or referring to them with a name, pronoun, or in another manner that is inconsistent with their disclosed gender) may be considered a violation of UND's Discrimination and Harassment policy."
Examples of instances in which the university would continue to use a legal name are in medical records or tax documents.
Student organizations, including fraternities and sororities, would be exempt from the policy. The proposal notes that under Title IX, these organizations have the autonomy "to set their own policies regarding the sex, including gender identity, of their members."
It also notes that the university will continue to follow the NCAA's guidance for participation in collegiate sports.
The policy will allow students to use gendered facilities, including restrooms and locker rooms, "consistent with their gender identity and expression and are not required to use UND facilities inconsistent with their gender identity and expression or to use alternative facilities."
If approved, the policy would also require UND to communicate "in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, gender identity, or gender expression and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes. Gender-inclusive language and imagery does not make gender visible when it is not relevant for communication and does not assume a gender binary."
This policy has been in development for months, according to UND's online policy handbook.
A policy impact statement posted there in June cites, as a problem, that "students, employees and visitors who are transgender and gender non-binary are frequently misgendered in social and academic environments on campus, through the use of University system programs (Campus Connection, PeopleSoft, Scholarship Central, program offer letters, Starfish, etc.), and in employment settings. Safety and security in utilizing spaces such as locker rooms/changing rooms and restrooms is challenging to navigate when limited gender-inclusive facilities exist."
The website states that this language is "only the policy impact statement" and that the "official policy is currently being drafted."
Donna Smith, an Assistant Vice President for Equal Opportunity, is listed as the policy owner. Smith was hired in 2014 as UND's Director for Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action.
According to publicly available payroll data, her current salary is over $116,000 per year, which is up 23% since 2017.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.