UH Hilo’s new LGBTQ+ Center is committed to ensuring nondiscrimination and prevention of sexual harassment, including protection for transgender, gender-nonconforming and LGBTQ+ individuals.
By Anne Rivera.
Celebrating and embracing diversity in gender and sexual orientation found in the campus community at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo—and ultimately to become an even more inclusive campus—are goals of the UH Hilo LGBTQ+ Center coordinator, Laura Sherwood. But changes have occurred at the federal level since the start of 2017 that have the potential of impacting that mission—-and one of those changes is the federal government’s reversal of previous guidance issued to universities regarding Title IX protection for transgender students.
Sherwood admits there is a general fear since the changes— “What is going to happen next?” and “How is it going to impact the community?”—however, she says, UH Hilo is addressing these concerns by offering counseling as well as coordinating events to get people involved and engaged in helping to create and take part in solutions.
“It is our responsibility to be inclusive and supportive as well as to create a community where [discrimination] is not an issue,” says Sherwood. “Title IX is gender equality.”
Title IX was initially passed in 1972 under the Education Amendment Act. It is a federal law that mandates, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied in the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Title IX not only applies to sports but also includes access to higher education, career education, education for pregnant and parenting students, employment, learning environment, math and science, standardized testing, technology, and protection from sexual harassment. Since the passing of the law, over 20 proposed amendments, reviews, Supreme Court cases, and other political actions have occurred.
Still, to this day, there are many schools across the United States that are not in compliance with this federal mandate.
Under the previous administration, which ended on Jan. 20, 2017, Title IX protected all students, including transgender and gender-nonconforming students, from sex discrimination. Sex discrimination encompasses nonconformity with sex stereotypes and gender identity—once an education institution is notified that a student asserts that their gender identity differs from previous representation and/or records, the school must treat the student consistent with their identity.
An additional obligation of Title IX as well as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is to protect the privacy of students and records.
Shortly after the reversal of the previous guidance, David Lassner, president of the UH System, issued a statement that reaffirmed the university’s commitment to all students including those of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Regardless of what the federal government compels nationwide through compliance requirements, UH remains steadfast in our community to nondiscrimination and prevention of sexual harassment, including protection for transgender, gender-nonconforming and LGBTQ+ individuals,” Lassner states in his message.
Lassner also mentions how UH had initiated the program of protection of the LGBTQ+ community before the initial federal guidance.
“Protection remains in place across the UH System regardless of this federal action,” he says.
UH Hilo and support of LGBTQ+ community
The LGBTQ+ Center at UH Hilo was developed last fall because the university administration wanted to provide a place for LGBTQ+ students to gather for support and do activities to acknowledge and celebrate certain significant days throughout the year.
Sherwood started her work as coordinator in September 2016 shortly after the Orlando shooting—she was tasked to create and maintain the center. She says her goal is to “build community and safe place” along with having a space students feel they can use as a resource to get information or come to “hang out and simply be.”
“Transgender Awareness Day, Coming Out Day, Allies Day, etc. are all important and the idea is to bring awareness,” explains Sherwood. “There’s pretty much something happening every month [on campus] that aligns with building awareness of LGBTQ issues and rights.”
Events, like the Conversation Café, are held for students twice a month to meet on campus and build a sense of community and involvement. The LGBTQ+ Center extended an invitation to the campus community today to participate in a Conversation Café gathering to discuss the topic of pronouns to encourage an inclusive and equitable environment for the LGBTQ+ community and allies.
“The Conversation Café shows that there is a community of LGBTQ+ students as well as allies who want to be supportive and learn how to be more supportive,” says Sherwood.
Bringing awareness to LGBTQ+ issues and rights helps the UH System uphold their commitment to the community and student body.
“I am grateful to our UH Systemwide LGBTQ+ Commissions, which provides thoughtful and consistent advice and guidance as we work to ensure appropriate protections and support for all members of the UH community,” says Lassner in his message.
Gender discrimination is not tolerated in the UH community—the goal is to be centered more on individual and personal value while eliminating stereotypes and generalizations. Additional support and services can be found at all 10 campuses in the UH System.
Anne Rivera (junior, communication) is a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor.
-UH Hilo Stories