Across the UNC System, many students living on campus are forced into uncomfortable and often unsafe living situations simply because they do not identify with the gender on their birth certificates. There is no reason that students should face this unnecessary problem just because of their gender identities; the Board of Governors needs to enact a system-wide policy guaranteeing a gender-neutral housing option for all students.
Regardless of how they identify or present themselves in their daily lives, all students are assigned to a living space based on their legal sex, and this is not a problem for most. But for transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming individuals, this system can create awkward or even dangerous situations — for example, a trans man could still be legally “female” and required to share an apartment with a group of women.
Obviously this could be an uncomfortable living situation, but safety is a bigger concern, as people of marginalized genders are significantly more likely to experience harassment and violence. Many universities, like NC State, will work with students to find appropriate living situations on a case-by-case basis, but their efforts are unnecessarily restricted by the current policy, which bans gender-neutral housing assignments.
In 2012, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees implemented a gender-neutral housing option on campus after more than a year of consistent pressure from students. The option would have designated 32 living spaces for students of different genders to live together, primarily because many transgender students were experiencing harassment in their traditional housing assignments.
Before this housing option could go into effect, the UNC System Board of Governors unanimously overturned it with a policy that bans “members of the opposite sex” from sharing on-campus living spaces at any UNC-System school unless they are legally married, siblings, or a parent and child.
Like countless other discriminatory policies against the LGBTQ+ community, this decision was justified by willful ignorance and fear mongering over a non-issue. Opponents of gender-neutral housing portrayed it as a “frivolous social experiment,” falsely claiming that it would increase the risk of sexual assault.
Peter Hans, then-chair of the BOG, said that although the board “wants every student to feel safe and comfortable and included,” there are “more practical ways” to achieve this. Hans did not explain how the program in Chapel Hill was impractical — only the four students who applied for the option would have been affected during the 2013-14 academic year.
The Board of Governors cannot claim to value the comfort and safety of every student while making empty excuses for discriminatory policies. Five years later, the system-wide housing policy is still in effect, and the board has not presented any “more practical way” to ensure that LGBTQ+ students feel safe, comfortable and included on campus. A system-wide policy guaranteeing students a gender-neutral option for university-provided housing is long overdue.
This unsigned editorial is the opinion of Technician’s editorial board and is the responsibility of the editor-in-chief.