This will be a short post but I wanted to have a chance to write out some thoughts I am having. In recent news, George Fox University, based near me in Newberg, Oregon has denied a transgender student housing with the gender he identifies with. To be “fair” the university has provided housing but not the housing requested and not with the “general public” of his identified gender.
UPDATE: Some good folks pointed out that some of the language I used was still very cis oriented. I made some edits to be more sensitive. I am a learning ally who makes mistakes along the way. Thanks for pointing out how I can grow.
George Fox made a statement here: Transgender student and housing at George Fox University. (GFU may be the first Christian university to have a URL like georgefox.edu/transgender ). In their statement they say:
We affirm the dignity and humanity of every student – each of whom is an image bearer of God.
These commitments don’t always lead to easy answers in an increasingly complex world. But George Fox is very conscious of the need to approach difficult questions with grace, understanding and an abiding love for our students, faculty and staff. This is why we are disappointed in how the situation has escalated.
A petition posted online yesterday accuses the university of denying appropriate housing to a transgender student. The petition – created in coordination with a Portland attorney and activist – does not give a complete picture of this complex situation.
Both religious and non-religious universities are struggling with appropriate ways to support their transgender students. Over the past several months, George Fox Student Life staff has spent many hours with this student hearing his story and offering support. Out of respect for the student’s wishes, university staff refers to the student using the masculine pronoun (italics are mine). At this time, the student has not legally changed genders.
H. Adam Ackley wrote a great analysis of the situation in the Huffington Post, in which he says.
…the Christian college George Fox University is refusing to allow Jayce, a transgender student, to live on campus in housing appropriate for his gender and is moving forward to develop an official policy that will restrict housing to being based exclusively on the biological sex that was assigned to their students at birth (not recognizing even intersex or ambiguous, non-binary birth gender, let alone trans* identity).
The issue I see is this. GFU chooses to respect the student’s identity in press releases, personal and public communications, and to the larger community by referring to the “student using the masculine pronoun.” Great, as they should. Jayce identifies as a male and should be referred to as such. This is a great step for GFU and Christian organizations. I have been a round many conservative folks to faith who continue to identify people with the incorrect personal pronoun and insist upon the designation at birth rather than the identity. However, while this is a positive move we cannot forget that the whole issue has come up based upon GFUs choice to not identify Jayce as his identity but as his being designated female at birth. GFU has created a giant double standard and created a dual personality by which they deal with him. Jayce is both male and female in the eyes of GFU. Jayce is both male and transgender in the eyes of GFU. Jayce is both in and out, accepted and non-accepted, split down the middle to fit various policies. This splitting of identity, and creation of the OTHER is a horrendous crime against the basic unity and humanity of Jayce as a created being. God instilled an identity, one person and one humanity in all of us. It is our sin and denial of that identity that creates multiple splits. God created a body of humanity and a body of Christ, one person with one identity.
To GFU you do not get to respect a student on paper and in press releases and letters by using their preferred pronoun but then in practice and policy choose not to. If you choose to see Jayce as he is you must identity him wholly in all situations. We cannot create a calculus of situational ethics, in which students and people and others are sometimes in and sometimes out. What you have created is a person who sometimes fits your standards and sometimes doesn’t. You have created a person who is sometimes acceptable and sometimes not. God created Jayce as one being, you have split him into many. George Fox, you don’t get to decide on when Jayce is acceptable or unacceptable.
GFU, I know you know these concepts to be true. You have even posted them on your website. Your diversity page calls to the fact that, “forms of division are destructive to redemptive community.” You continue to say,
Scripture is clear that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit following the resurrection of Jesus Christ enacts a form of community that at once embraces and transcends our differences. In Jesus Christ our unique, individual identities are both preserved and liberated to engage in redemptive community and in the reconciling work of Christ in the world. We believe that God values each of us in our uniqueness. Therefore we seek to be a community that celebrates the uniqueness of each of its members…
I commend that sentiment but it appears to only be a sentiment. Why is that only some receive the support of this theology? How is that that you make such a profound and positive statement but then undermine it completely? You ask for the GFU community to transcend differences but single out one student for his. You understand that God values our uniqueness but then create a line where someone’s identity may be too far. You do not celebrate Jayce but keep him at a distance, splitting his unity into pieces that fit your agenda.
The double standard you have created, of sometimes okay and sometimes not okay, is sinful. God asks us to follow in his steps to create unity, wholeness and to reconcile the broken to their identity. When people of faith create divisions we are not doing God’s work. On paper, you call Jayce a he. In housing you call Jayce a her. You can’t have both. Jayce is one person, as God created him to be.