Univ. Dakota leader defends gender inclusion plan | national

BISMARCK, ND (AP) — The president of the University of North Dakota on Friday defended a proposal that would allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity, saying the intent was to align the Grand Forks-based school on laws and to better protect LGBTQ students from harassment and discrimination.

University President Andrew Armacost’s live presentation came after widespread criticism from state lawmakers, North Dakota’s two Catholic bishops and Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, who said in a Facebook post that the proposed gender inclusion policy “spits in the face of everything we believe in.” and called it a “sad day for my alma mater”. The proposal would, among other things, require the use of a transgender person‘s preferred pronouns and allow people to use facilities that match their gender identity.

“The draft policy seeks to affirm our support for our LGBTQ members and, in particular, our transgender and non-binary members, with this same guarantee of access to education and fair employment without fear of discrimination or harassment. “said Armacost.

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The policy also states that the university expects to use gender-neutral imagery and language in signage, publications, and marketing materials.

Armacost, a former brigadier general and retired dean of the Air Force Academy, was named president of the university in late 2019. The school has approximately 13,780 students and is the first of 11 public colleges and universities in the North Dakota to create such a broad gender inclusion policy.

Donna Smith, the school’s vice president of equal opportunities, and Armacost said LGBTQ students have reported harassment and discrimination, though no formal complaints have ever been filed.

Armacost said it personally received a complaint on Thursday. Smith said she believes many concerns go unreported.

Critics of the proposed policy have expressed particular concern about student accommodation. Armacost pointed out that it is not true that a person would be assigned accommodation based on their “expressed gender rather than their biological sex”.

“The draft policy does not address the specifics of the housing allocation process,” Armacost said. “The wording of the proposed policy is intended to provide assurance that trans and gender non-conforming students will have access to housing consistent with their gender identity.”

The proposal grants exemptions to fraternities and sororities, which are permitted to “establish their own policies regarding the sex, including gender identity, of their members,” as permitted by Title IX, the 1972 federal law that protects against gender discrimination in education.

The issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation has been raised frequently in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Attempts to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, government, public services and the workplace have been repeatedly defeated. Former Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple chastised lawmakers when they killed the legislation in 2015, telling them they had missed an opportunity to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. Current GOP Governor Doug Burgum has also been outspoken about the Legislature’s failure to pass an anti-discrimination bill.

Some lawmakers told The Associated Press that the legislation is likely to reverse school policy if passed in its draft form.

Armacost said it would work with relevant lawmakers to “develop sensible policies that won’t trigger a backlash.”

Armcost said it doesn’t have a timeline for its final approval.

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