A rally is planned for Thursday at the University of Minnesota in response to the decision by the Trump administration to rescind safeguards for transgender and gender nonconforming students. Organizers also hope to pressure the University of Minnesota to make concrete steps at improving the Twin Cities campus for transgender students. The organizers are also expressing disappointment with University President Eric Kaler for what they call an unacceptably slow response to Trump’s actions.

Transgender and gender nonconforming students will rally at 3pm in front of Coffman Memorial Union. According to a press release on Sunday, organizers seek a strong message from the University in support of transgender and gender expansive students:

In response to the Trump administration’s recent rescinding of Title IX guidance on transgender students, these students are calling upon the University to release a statement explicitly stating that transgender and gender nonconforming students, faculty, staff, and visitors are free to use the restroom that is consistent with their gender identities. University policy is currently not clear on this matter, which creates the worry that should harassment occur in a restroom based on gender identity or gender expression, the University may not support the transgender or gender nonconforming person targeted in this harassment. A clear statement of policy in support of transgender and gender nonconforming students would send a message that the University welcomes people of all gender identities and will support their rights. This message would also set an example for cisgender individuals on campus that transphobia will not be tolerated.

That message did come on Tuesday, almost a full week since the announcement that the Trump administration was rescinding safeguards for students. That statement stated, in part:

Let me be clear. The University of Minnesota stands by our values of equity and inclusion and the right of transgender and gender nonconforming members of our campus community to learn, teach, and work free of any form of harassment and discrimination, including the dignity of being able to use the restroom that aligns with your gender identity. Our support for these rights will not change. The University will not tolerate harassment or discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression. Furthermore, the Minnesota Human Rights Act provides that all students should be free from discrimination, including transgender students…. If you experience harassment or discrimination based upon your gender identity, report it to the Office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action and the Bias Response and Referral Network. There are many resources to support you, and you can find them by reaching out to the GSC. We all belong here and deserve to feel safe and secure.

Rally organizers responded with their own statement:

As students of this University, we are deeply disturbed at the near week-long period of silence coming from your office regarding the Trump administration’s recent rollback of Title IX guidance that clarifies transgender and gender nonconforming students’ right to education. As President of this land-grant University, we expect you to take concrete actions to address the needs of transgender and gender nonconforming University students, faculty, staff, and visitors.

This University should be courageous in its leadership and commitment to the safety and rights of transgender and gender nonconforming students, staff, faculty, and visitors. We are well aware of the stark contrast of your period of inaction compared to the Chancellor of Colorado University-Boulder’s statement published just one day after Trump’s announcement.

Your statement released earlier today, while welcome, is too little too late. Aside from your sloppy writing, your empty-handed rhetoric of support for transgender and gender nonconforming students comes with no concrete steps that you plan on implementing to ensure that this support is more than just a simple gesture with no meaning behind it. We speculate that prior to the news that students were planning a rally on campus, you had no intention of making a statement, much less one that strives to improve campus climate for transgender and gender nonconforming people on campus.

We acknowledge that you have a significant amount of progress to make in many areas, including discrimination based on race and religion, prevention of sexual assault and advocacy for survivors, as well as queer-specific accessibility to University services, among others. We expect you to make progress on these. All of these issues are interconnected and deserve your attention.

We call on you to take the following actions: expedite the creation and conversion of gender-neutral restrooms on campus, and allocate funds for implementation especially on the St. Paul campus; include students’ preferred names on class waitlists and all University-related databases; issue free replacement UCards for preferred name changes; issue responses to incidents of bias or discrimination both on and off campus that relate to University students, faculty, staff, and visitors in a timely manner; and apologize publicly for the six days it took for you to release a statement acknowledging the actions of the Trump administration and reaffirming your support for the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming members of the University community. We expect a prompt response.

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Andy Birkey
Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

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