Saturday, December 20, 2008

Transgender Student's Discrimination Case Under Investigation

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is investigating a discrimination complaint against Harrisburg Area Community College that was filed by a former student, Jamie Nicole Anderson. According to this article about case, Anderson is a 42-year-old ex-Marine who had a 3.8 GPA at HACC, where she was pursuing an x-ray technician degree. In May she underwent "a sex change operation" and "that's when the trouble started."* She was harassed by clinical instructors who referred to her by male pronouns -- in contrast to her patients, who always called her ma'am. Despite her efforts to seek support and assistance from program directors and the instructors' supervisors, she claims, HACC's response was half-hearted and consequently, ineffective. In October, HACC suspended her for using the women's restroom. Later that month, she was expelled for violating the dress code policy that forbids students from wearing more than one earring in an ear. It seems unlikely to me that all students who accidentally wear an extra earring are expelled, so I am guessing PHRC will examine whether Anderson was singled out for an unusually harsh punishment for discriminatory reasons.

PHRC enforces the Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunties Act, which prohibits schools from discriminating against students on the basis of "race, religion, color, ancestry, national origin or sex." It is unclear from PHRC's published materials and decisions whether it considers sex discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Perhaps the results of this case will be informative on that issue.

* I'm direct quoting the article here because it seems unlikely to me that discrimination against Anderson "started" when she had sex reassignment surgery. Anderson must have been taking female hormones and living full time as a woman prior to that time. Surely these outward gender markers would have made her a target for discrimination more so than the status of her anatomy.