A Christian university in Oregon must decide where it stands theologically and legally as it responds to an anti-discrimination complaint filed last week by a transgender student.
The student, referred to in legal documents as Jayce M., came to George Fox University in Newberg, Ore., about 25 miles south of Portland, as a woman but has been in the process of legally, and physically, changing her gender.
George Fox University administrators met throughout the year with Jayce, now a sophomore, to figure out where she would live once she legally became a man. Because student housing at George Fox is single-gender, campus officials proposed that Jayce live alone on-campus next year. Jayce had requested to live in an on-campus apartment with a group of male friends, Jayce’s attorney, Paul Southwick, told me.
Southwick is a Portland attorney and a George Fox alumnus who heads up an advocacy project for LGBT students on Christian college campuses. He said he met Jayce through other students he knows at George Fox. Southwick filed the Title IX discrimination complaint on April 4 and also helped Jayce’s mother prepare a petition supporting Jayce on Change.org. As of Friday afternoon, the petition had nearly 6,000 signatures.
In 2011, Southwick represented a student whose acceptance at California Baptist University was rescinded when the college learned the young man had represented himself as a woman on his application. The student at that time had not undergone the legal gender change process. The lawsuit is still pending.
Jayce applied to George Fox as a female and has been honest with the university about being transgender, Southwick said.
“Jayce is a Christian and he’s happy to go to a Christian university,” Southwick said. “He also doesn’t see anything being incompatible with being a Christian and living with a transgender identity.” Southwick said he saw “no clear directive from scripture or spiritual leaders” against attempting to change gender, though “there’s clearer passages regarding homosexual conduct.”
George Fox is a Christian university founded by Quakers in the 1880s. It is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. The statement of faith on its website says, “We believe that God inspired the Bible and has given it to us as the uniquely authoritative, written guide for Christian living and thinking. As illumined by the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures are true and reliable.”
In a statement posted online, school administrators said, “George Fox strives to be a Christ-centered community and our residential facilities are single sex because of our theological commitments. The student’s request to switch from female-only on-campus housing to male-only on-campus housing is one that many institutions would struggle with.”
According to the statement, administrators spent hours during the past several months trying to work out Jayce’s housing situation. They also have tried to be supportive. “Out of respect for the student’s wishes, university staff refers to the student using the masculine pronoun,” the statement said. “At this time, the student has not legally changed genders.” An Oregon court approved changing Jayce’s legal gender to male earlier today, Southwick told me.
The university is subject to Title IX, which requires schools to provide equal student housing to students of all genders, Southwick said. Based on an attorney’s advice, a university spokesman declined to comment further on the college’s legal or theological defense for its position. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will be responsible for investigating the complaint and deciding whether George Fox has violated Title IX’s anti-discrimination rules.