Campus Pride Blog

Joint Statement: North Carolina colleges and universities can and should move forward with gender-neutral campus housing programs to protect safety of LGBT students

Joint statement from Campus Pride, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality and Transgender Law Center outlines path forward for schools aiming to create safer, more inclusive campus housing options and residential life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students

unc-chapelhill-seal.jpgCHARLOTTE, N.C. – Campus Pride, the leading national nonprofit for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and ally college students, has joined with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality and the Transgender Law Center in issuing a joint statement calling on North Carolina colleges and universities to consider, adopt and implement gender-neutral and gender-non-specific housing options and residential life programs.

On Feb. 7, 2012, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp rejected a student- and faculty-led proposal to adopt a gender-non-specific housing program. At the time, Campus Pride noted our displeasure at Thorp’s decision and its failure to meet the safety needs of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) student population.

“Thorp has said his school has yet to ‘adequately explain’ the proposed gender-neutral housing program to its ‘stakeholders off campus,’ but such an explanation is simple and straightforward: The first and foremost priority of any college or university should be the safety and education of its students,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride. “Our landmark 2010 research, ‘The State of Higher Education for LGBT People,’ shows that LGBT students are significantly more likely to experience harassment on campus. It is the sole responsibility of college administrators and staff to provide for the safety and inclusion of their students.”

UNC-Chapel Hill would have been the first public university in the state to institute a gender-neutral housing program, following in the footsteps of nearly 100 schools nationwide including nearly half of Chapel Hill’s peer institutions as well as three private schools in North Carolina: Duke University, Guilford College and Warren-Wilson College.

“Put simply, Chancellor Thorp is just wrong” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Thorp’s decision now puts UNC-Chapel Hill behind dozens of schools across the country that have implemented gender-neutral housing options. There is no state law that prevents gender-neutral housing, and most importantly, transgender students at UNC may continue to face unsafe living and learning environments because of Thorp’s decision. That is wrong, and Chancellor Thorp should reconsider his position.”

As news of Thorp’s decision spread across the state, several issues were raised at other UNC System campuses, including concerns that North Carolina colleges and universities are legally prohibited from offering fair, equitable and safe housing to LGBT students.

“Gender-neutral housing options are one important way universities are making their campuses safe and welcoming for LGBT students, including transgender or gender non-conforming students, who in some cases may not feel comfortable with a roommate of a certain gender,” said Ilona Turner, legal director for the Transgender Law Center. “There is no legal reason that North Carolina schools cannot adopt these common-sense policies.”

National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Price Minter, Esq., explained the legal background:

    “There is no North Carolina law that would prevent a university from providing gender-neutral housing for students who would like to have that option. Specifically, there are no laws about cohabitation that would prevent this.

    “North Carolina has a couple of laws that prohibit cohabitation under certain circumstances, but they do not apply to gender-neutral housing in a university by any stretch of the imagination.  In addition, after the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), those laws are also plainly unconstitutional.

    “Only two laws in North Carolina currently address cohabitation. One has been found unconstitutional on the basis that it violates the 14th Amendment due process rights established by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas (2003). The second, though unchallenged, would almost certainly be found unconstitutional. In addition, neither of the laws apply directly to gender-neutral housing on college or university campuses.

    “In sum, universities and colleges in North Carolina are completely free to provide gender-neutral housing without running afoul of any law.”

The safety of LGBT students stands at the heart of campus programs and policies like gender-neutral housing. UNC-Chapel Hill Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp recognized the importance of such campus housing safety measures, telling WCHL 1360 AM, “My recommendation was to do it on a pilot basis that would engage some of the issues around safety and inclusivity that the proposal addressed…My commitment is to try to make sure we have an environment where everyone has an equal shot at success,” he says. “To me, that begins with feeling safe and included. There are segments of our community where we struggle, and this particular proposal is aimed at improving that.”

Campus Pride will continue to support the LGBT student community at the UNC-Chapel Hill and renews its call that this proposal be reconsidered within the year — because it is the right thing to do for LGBT student safety and all students on campus.

Campus Pride further calls on all North Carolina colleges and universities to consider, adopt and implement gender-neutral and gender-non-specific housing options and residential life programs and join the nearly 100 schools across the country that have already taken steps to provide for increased safety and inclusion of LGBT students on their campuses and in campus housing.

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