Transgender George Fox student faces discrimination and is denied appropriate campus housing

A transgender student, Jayce M., was denied his housing request to live with male friends by Portland, Oregon's George Fox University, a privately owned Quaker school that receives federal funding, based on so-called theological principles.

Watch KGW.com's coverage of the case below:

Jayce, who is a rising junior, filed a complaint to his school when he was denied the option to live with his male friends in on-campus housing. The university had denied Jayce's request, giving him the option to either live in a single-person apartment on campus, or live with his male friends off campus. Neither of these "separate-but-equal" options were acceptable to Jayce.

He told PQ Monthly,

I’m shocked and disappointed that the federal government has given George Fox permission to discriminate against me and is allowing it to do so with federal funds,” he says. “But I’m not giving up. I deserve to be treated like the other men on campus. Apparently, the university disagrees, as they have made clear by forcing me to live off-campus. The university is operating under the doctrine of ‘separate but equal,’ and the religious exemption they received now gives the government’s stamp of approval to what they are doing. My own tax dollars will fund the university’s discrimination against me. I don’t understand it and I don’t think it is fair.

Federally funded educational institutions are barred from discrimination based on sex and gender under Title IX. Jayce filed a complaint to the Department of Education for the university's violation of Title IX; but before he did so, George Fox, without transparency to Jayce, his family, and his attorney, had requested an exemption from this law as a religious institution. Following suit with the Hobby Lobby ruling, George Fox was granted this so-called religious exemption to discrimination by the Department of Education with unusually speedy review, according to PQ Monthly. Jayce is now appealing the Department of Education's decision.

Jayce's attorney, Paul Southwick, described to PQ Monthly the blatant lack of transparency and fairness displayed in the case:

George Fox University (GFU), without telling us, requested a religious exemption to the Title IX regulations regarding housing, restrooms and athletics as they apply to transgender students… GFU requested this exemption from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) a mere three days before denying Jayce’s final appeal to the university and a mere four days before Jayce filed his complaint with the ED. The ED granted the request for the religious exemption with surprising speed–only two months, rather than the years it has taken historically to get an exemption. Based on the exemption, the ED closed Jayce’s complaint. The ED did all of this without telling us anything about the exemption request, despite my repeated calls and emails for information and status updates. After I received their letter, a representative from ED told me he was ‘not authorized’ to discuss the religious exemption with me. Normally, the ED decides whether to investigate a complaint within 30 days. In Jayce’s case, they made us wait about 90 days, all without telling us the real reason they were making us wait. We are going to appeal the ED’s ruling.

George Fox has ignored any requests from PQ Monthly for comment.

Fellow students, friends, family, and thousands of others have expressed outrage over the discrimination Jayce is facing. Jayce's mother started a Change.org petition that has already reached over 20,000 signers. In April, Jayce and his supporters held a rally on a campus that received news coverage from Fox 12 that can be viewed below.

KPTV - FOX 12

Among the most outspoken of Jayce's supporters are two local Quaker pastors – Dr. C. Wess Daniels, Pastor at Camas Friends Church, and Mike Huber, Pastor at West Hills Friends Church – who believe Jayce's discrimination is completely outside of the values of their faith. They stated,

As pastors in NW Yearly Meeting, we urge George Fox University to provide safe housing for Jayce M...It is our understanding that our ‘Faith and Practice’ provides no theological grounds whatsoever for excluding transgender students from housing consistent with their gender identity. As Quakers, the biblical teaching that men and women are created in the image of God convicts us that ‘… all persons have equal value and are created in the image of God’ (Vision, Mission and Values: 1). The theological framework of our Faith & Practice affirms the inherent dignity of all people, regardless of their gender identity:

We witness to the dignity and worth of all persons before God. We repudiate and seek to remove discrimination based on gender, race, nationality, or class. We deplore the use of selfish ends to gain unfair advantage, and we urge political, economic, and social justice for all peoples. We consider civil order most just when conscience is free and religious faith uncoerced (Faith Expressed through Witness: 11).

The same Faith & Practice urges us to consider: Do you speak out for justice and morality, and against oppression, exploitation, and public wrong? Do you recognize the equality of persons regardless of race, gender, or economic status (The Queries #18: 13)?

Based upon these theological convictions, we ask George Fox University to honor the housing requests of its transgender students.  Let us follow the example of Jesus Christ, and extend hospitality to those who might otherwise be unsafe and unwelcome in our communities.

Another member of the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends, Darleen Ortega, who is also a George Fox alum and a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals, expressed much confusion and disappointment that the school would claim discrimination is a religious value:

I can’t speak for the university, of course, and indeed they refused even to participate in a conversation with me long before any legal action was initiated by Jayce.  However, that is a lot of what I find troubling. As a person of faith and a Quaker myself, I see nothing in scripture or Friends theology that justifies or even supports the university’s position. What I find in scripture, instead, are calls for compassion and kindness to everyone. And I don’t understand how one can deal ethically with someone in Jayce’s situation without working to understand his circumstances and come alongside him. There is no clearer call to Christians and no practice more fundamental to Friends.

As for the denomination, I don’t see any evidence of an official theological stance inside Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends regarding transgender persons or how their housing needs should be addressed. My guess is that if you took a poll among people inside the denomination, there would be fear around that issue and lack of understanding, but that is not the same as a theological stance. Sadly, it appears that prejudice and fear frequently gets identified as a religious position.

Media outlets have been pointing out that Jayce has socially, medically, and legally transitioned to a male gender, but all of these facts are irrelevant when considering the bottom line that Jayce identifies as male. Thus, no matter what point he is at in his transition, Jayce is male and deserves to be treated as such on moral grounds, even if legal logic has not caught up yet. To imply otherwise involves classist assumptions that all transgender people can afford physical treatments in addition to assuming that all transgender people want to physically transition; every transgender person is different, has different preferences and needs, and leads a different path.

Jayce expressed in his own words a little of what it is like for him being transgender and African American in a video interview with OPB News shown below.

To show your support for Jayce, sign the Change.org petition here.

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