Virginia Tech’s University Council passed a revision on Monday to update the college’s Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy to include both gender identity and gender expression in its list of protected orientations.
The revision is now set to enter the final stage of voting at the Board of Visitors meeting where, if passed, will make Virginia Tech the first state institution to include both gender identity and expression on its anti-discriminatory policy.
Caroline Sapyta, president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Alliance (LGBTA) at Tech, believes that the passing of this revision, which has never been agreed upon by the University Council in its previous iterations, would be groundbreaking for the university.
“This measure getting this far means so much to me and the rest of the LGBTQ+ community,” Sapyta said. “To sit in a room of important and influential administrators on campus including deans of colleges, President Steger and Provost McNamee, and have them unanimously pass a measure that's going to protect a severely underrepresented part of the Hokie Community, brought me to tears.”
Tech’s current anti-discriminatory policy, which is officially referred to as Policy 1025, includes gender and sexual orientation, but the addition of both gender identity and gender expression further extends the veil of prohibition of harassment and discrimination for “all levels and areas of university operations and programs,” as the policy states.
Gender identity is defined by the American Psychological Association as “one’s sense of oneself as male, female or transgender,” which relates to the inherent gender association that a person feels. Gender expression is defined as the types of clothing or outward expression one exhibits to communicate their gender or orientation.
The last time the revision was presented to the University Council was in 2009 during the council’s last meeting of the year, where the reading of the bill was deferred. According to council procedure, any business left unsolved cannot roll over to the next school year; therefore, the reform was denied.
Sapyta said the reason for the defer was because of the council’s desire for data on incidents of harassment, as well as the notion that they believed it would open the door for other revisions which would overcomplicate the policy.
In addition, Sapyta said that the revision, which was put together by the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity, originally only included gender identity because a conservative approach was considered more likely to get passed.
However, Sapyta said that the LGBTA population refused to support a resolution only including gender identity.
“So, at the second reading of the resolution, they presented one that included both gender identity and expression,” Sapyta said. “The CSA (Commission on Student Affairs) and the student voice is the reason that this policy coming forward is so inclusive and so groundbreaking.”
If passed, Sapyta believes that this is only the beginning of the work the LGBTA (which will operate under the new moniker ‘HokiePRIDE’ next semester) has in front of them.
Along with educating the university about what gender identity and expression are, the committee will be pushing for gender-neutral bathrooms across campus with the intention of setting another precedent for LGBTA rights across the state.
“Virginia Tech is a leader in so many other things as a research institution, so it only makes sense that we're a leader when it comes to protection against discrimination and creating safe spaces for everyone on campus,” Sapyta said.