JMU Leads VA State Colleges in Protecting Transgender Employees
As of April 2014, James Madison University’s transgender employees and students have an additional layer of protection in their school system.
In an update to the college’s non discrimination policy, JMU added “gender identity” to the list of protected classes. Among comparable state schools, including Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia, JMU is the only program to have the “gender identity” class listed specifically.
In Spring of 2010, then VA Attorney General Ken Cucinelli wrote a letter to state colleges condemning the addition of sexual orientation to their list of protected classes as it did not align with the state’s list of protected classes. All the colleges listed above, including JMU, have bucked that advice and kept protections for sexual orientation in place despite the AG’s threats, but the addition of “gender identity” is a new step.
On his first day in office, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed Executive Order 1 which extended protections to state employees for sexual orientation and gender identity. However an executive order can be undone by the next governor, as was the case when former Gov. McDonnell rewrote the state’s list of protections, removing sexual orientation protections former Gov. Tim Kaine had put in place.
Until the VA General Assembly updates their list of protected classes through the legislative system, with pushes for bills like SB 248 this past session, the state of VA continues to not have protections for sexual and gender minorities.
But that isn’t keeping the folks at JMU down.
JoAnn Benjamin, the International Advising Coordinator for JMU and one of the founders of the LGBT Faculty and Staff Group, found out about the policy change as she was casually checking her email. She noticed the small note from JMU’s Diversity Director, Art Dean.
“I ran out of the building to find someone to high-five, I was so excited!” said Benjamin. The members of the LGBT Faculty and Staff Group and Benjamin had been working towards this kind of equality, as well as benefits for same-sex partners.
The ACLU of Virginia, which has championed equal protections in VA for some time, applauded JMU for the addition of gender identity to the list of protected classes. While JMU was unavailable for comment by press time, the VAACLU said the new rule could relate to the recent addition of gender identity to of the Department of Education‘s guidance on Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities.
“Even though we believe that such discrimination already violates federal law,” said Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Virginia. “JMU’s policy change is an important step forward in ensuring that all members of the university community understand that discrimination based on gender identity is unacceptable.”
Requests for comment sent to JMU and the Attorney General’s office were not returned by press time.
Top image via Emilie Von Unwerth
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