CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Officials with Central Piedmont Community College have updated non-discrimination policies, adding sexual orientation but leaving out protections for transgender students, faculty and staff. Students and local advocates are calling foul, saying officials should have taken broader steps toward inclusion, especially after an incident last year when a transgender female student alleged she had been harassed by campus security and escorted off campus for using a women’s restroom.
Last year’s incident of harassment created a campus, community and media fire storm for CPCC, drawing attention to their lack of LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies and practices — despite the presence of LGBT-inclusive policies at other local institutions of higher education and local governments.
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The college’s board of trustees took a step toward fixing that, at least partially, at their last meeting on March 4, unanimously approving the addition of sexual orientation to their non-discrimination, harassment and equal employment opportunity policies, according to spokesperson Jeff Lowrance.
But, after follow up, Lowrance also clarified that college leadership did not consider additional protections on the basis of gender identity or gender expression.
“The Board of Trustees did not look at or consider any other changes to the college’s non-discrimination policies,” Lowrance said, citing the addition of sexual orientation to the policies. “There are no college policies that cite gender identity or gender expression.”
Andraya Williams, the student who alleged the harassment in March 2014, said Wednesday she was upset by the policy decision.
“Sadly, I’m not too surprised, especially after being in the City Council meeting last week,” said Williams, referencing a Charlotte City Council meeting on March 2 which saw the exclusion of restroom protections for transgender people in non-discrimination and public accommodations ordinances eventually voted down 6-5.
“I was definitely hoping they would open their eyes and add [gender identity] in there and make it more inclusive,” Williams added.
Williams had alleged that college officials told her she was suspended after the incident with security. She had also said a college official told her she had “no legal rights” when she tried to address her complaints. College officials later said their policies were “in compliance with current laws,” but committed to meeting further with LGBT students and community organizations.
MORE: See a full archive of past CPCC coverage
Williams said the college never followed up with her.
“No. None at all,” she said when asked if the college had attempted reaching out to her.
Williams later withdrew from courses.
“Because of the incident, I didn’t feel comfortable or safe there any more,” said Williams, who has been working in the interim. “Before I feel safe going back, they would have to have transgender protections.”
Student leader, advocates react
Scout Rosen, a CPCC student, was president of the campus’ LGBT student group when Williams’ harassment occurred. Rosen had helped to plan a protest calling for inclusive policies and a safer campus days after news of the incident broke.
On Wednesday, Rosen, who identifies as a non-binary transgender person, said the college’s move caught them by surprise.
“I thought they were working on adding gender identity,” Rosen said, adding that campus officials seem to have taken the easy route in an effort to stifle criticism.
“I think it is an easy way for them to diffuse some of the pressure without doing anything meaningful,” they said.
Transgender students on campus have continued to be harassed or face difficulties, Rosen added. They cited incidents of students who have been harassed by other students when using the restroom, a student who has faced derogatory remarks from a teacher and a culinary arts student who cannot use the same locker rooms used by other students when having to change clothes for classes.
A list of gender-neutral restrooms — single-stall restrooms originally designed for families or those individuals with disabilities — was published online by the college following the incident of harassment last year. But Rosen said that list isn’t well-known outside of the LGBT student group or to newcomers and that most of those facilities are difficult to access, requiring transgender students to travel to different buildings from those where most classes are being held.
“Using those restrooms could take 10 minutes to get there and 10 minutes to get back and by that time, they’ve missed half their class,” Rosen said.
Rosen insisted Wednesday that the college’s addition of protections on the basis of sexual orientation does nothing to help transgender students. They think college officials don’t seem to have taken transgender students’ complaints seriously. Rosen, who stepped down as the campus LGBT group’s president a few weeks ago, met with campus officials last year, but wasn’t happy with the response.
“The reaction we got from them was, ‘We are working on it. It takes time to change things,'” Rosen said. “They said they were forming a committee with people from the community they had selected instead of just listening to the concerns of transgender students. It was a lot of red tape. They were very friendly upfront, but it just felt like they were trying to diffuse pressure and haven’t made any significant changes for transgender students.”
Shane Windmeyer, executive director of the Charlotte-based LGBT college advocacy group Campus Pride, said he was disappointed with the decision, but not surprised. He said administration at the college has been cautious on adding LGBT protections.
“That’s the climate everyone talks about,” Windmeyer said, adding that students, faculty and staff have been ready to move forward with more inclusive protections. The administration, however, continues to show unwillingness to address issues of campus safety and inclusion.
The incident with Williams last year slowed down conversations Campus Pride was having on campus, Windmeyer said. His group had done some trainings and were in regular contact with faculty and staff.
“Then the incident occurred and immediately conversations went behind closed doors and off the record and it was all about how upper-level administrators were not ready to do any of this,” Windmeyer said.
Even an attempt at creating a campus safety trainings was derailed. Windmeyer said he opted not to let CPCC use his group’s materials when it became clear the college was not going to resolve Williams’ incident.
“It became clear when it came to transgender issues, it would be hard to do safe zone trainings,” Windmeyer said. “There was a huge learning curve. In my most recent conversation, I began pushing back and saying you need to resolve the incident before you start safe zone training.”
The transgender-exclusive change did catch some off-guard.
Chad Severance, president of the Charlotte Business Guild, recently met with CPCC officials and a few other LGBT community leaders.
“It was our understanding they were going to add sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” Severance said.
Apparently, the policy change effort was supposed to include the campus’ student government and a faculty and staff committee. It’s not clear if those bodies actually took up any proposal to present to the CPCC Board of Trustees.
CPCC’s spokesperson said he wasn’t aware of any other resolutions or documents from other campus groups or divisions.
Unresolved incident is ‘problematic’
Windmeyer said CPCC needs to move forward, but doubts the campus will take a leading role on LGBT issues.
“I do think it is problematic in light of last year’s incident to not have included gender identity or expression in their non-discrimination statements,” he said. “I don’t think they can move forward in any way with confidence that they are LGBT friendly with a policy that directly omits transgender students.”
If CPCC isn’t willing to amend the policy, it can, Windmeyer said, take other measures in a process toward a final policy revision. They could, for example, allow students to begin changing their legal names to preferred names on college records and undertake broader education and awareness efforts.
“I would move forward with continuing to create educational opportunities around trans and LGB communities on campus, creating a dialogue between the campus police and the LGBTQ community,” he said. “It needs to be all about education and awareness in the campus community, building skills and continuing to push forward with inclusive policies and practices.”
Windmeyer said he has invited CPCC to complete his organization’s Campus Pride Index, a benchmarking tool that would “give them a road map,” he said.
“They wanted to do that, but they haven’t done it yet,” Windmeyer said. “It measures policies and practices. There might be something they can do for transgender students that isn’t necessarily the policy change. The index includes several other benchmarks.”
Until the policies and practices change, Rosen believes students will continue to face harassment and pressure. They’ve seen it happen, even after reassuring a potential student who had thought twice about attending CPCC that the school was working to make changes.
“I told him they are going to work on it and it will get better now,” Rosen said. “Now he does go to CPCC and he’s gotten harassed in the bathroom by a fellow student. There’s no protection, no policy and no recourse.”