A Christian university in Oregon can keep the rooming restrictions it has placed on a transgendered student, without risking any penalty from the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education granted George Fox University a religious exemption from Title IX, which prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex.
George Fox is a private, Christian university, but does receive some federal funding. In April, a student referred to in legal documents as Jayce M. filed a discrimination complaint against George Fox for not allowing him to live in an on-campus apartment with other men. Jayce was born female and registered as such when first admitted to George Fox. Last Spring Jayce completed the legal process for being designated as male rather than female, despite not having had any anatomy-changing operations.
Because student housing at George Fox is single-gender, campus officials proposed Jayce live alone on-campus for the upcoming school year. Campus officials said they spent hours meeting with Jayce to work out a solution. With the help of Portland attorney Paul Southwick, who is also an LGBT activist and a George Fox alumnus, Jayce filed the discrimination complaint. Meanwhile, The Huffington Post and DailyKos publicized an online petition from “Jayce's mom” entitled “Stop denying my transgender son appropriate on-campus housing” that gained more than 20,000 signatures.
“George Fox sought a Title IX exemption to protect it from being forced to act in a manner inconsistent with the university’s religious convictions,” university officials said in a statement. “That exemption was granted in May 2014. The complaint was closed without action. George Fox never received the complaint nor received official confirmation of its dismissal.”
The statement from George Fox pointed out the uncertainty among educators and regulators about how Title IX applies to transgender students. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) ruled in April that Title IX protections extend to students who could be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity as well as biological sex. But it’s not clear how the OCR will enforce that rule. Will universities be required to let males who identify themselves as females play on women’s sports teams? “OCR has failed to explain what its new interpretation of Title IX actually requires,” George Fox officials said.
The website Inside Higher Ed reported that another transgender rights case in which Southwick was involved was recently resolved in favor of California Baptist University. That university rescinded the 2011 acceptance of a male student who applied as a female. According to Inside Higher Ed, last week a California judge ruled the university had the right to expel the student, but not to ban the student from campus.