GV creates inclusive statement for transgender athletes

Grand Valley State University prohibits discrimination and harassment based on gender and gender identity for students involved with varsity sports, but the current language does not specifically address transgender students in club and intramural sports.

However, the Office of Student Life is working with Campus Recreation, the Division of Inclusion and Equity department, the LGBT Center and Student Senate to create an inclusive statement.

Eric Garvelink, the GVSU club sports coordinator, said they are working to develop an inclusive statement toward transgender participants in club sports, intramural sports and all of the campus recreation programs.

“This is important because there may be students who identify one way or another that may be hesitant to participant,” he said. “A statement of inclusion could allow them to participate in a sport they identify with.”

Some schools, such as Louisiana State University, have developed inclusivity statements for their club and intramural sports, but it is still a fairly new concept on the national level. Garvelink said the GVSU statement will look at athletic departments nationwide for guidance.

“Varsity sports tend to be the front runners on topics like this,” he said. “It is something that people have begun to develop, and we want to make sure we are on the forefront as leaders in this area.”

In addition, GVSU was the first Division II school to join the You Can Play Campaign, which focuses on equality for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation.

“We don’t want to be reactive,” Garvelink said. “We want to be proactive in our statement so that if bias incidents do happen, we have a way to address them.”

Dwight Hamilton, the GVSU associate vice president for affirmative action and Title IX officer, explained that, on the national level, Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination against all students, including those who identify as transgender.

The NCAA established a policy in 2010 to address transgender student athletes, but Hamilton said it unfortunately does not include club sports.

“Club sports participation is considered an educational opportunity, which should be free from barriers to full participation regardless of gender,” Hamilton said. “Sports provide benefits to participants’ emotional and physical health and well-being. Sports teach about teamwork and self-discipline, among other things.”

Colette Seguin-Beighley, director of the LGBT Resource Center, agreed with Hamilton that creating a new statement is essential, saying every student should have the opportunity to participate in sports in the gender identity or expression that is most authentic to them.

“The fact that transgender and gender-nonconforming students are not able to participate in intermural and club sports in their self-identified gender is discriminatory,” Seguin-Beighley said. “This inability to participate authentically is also not in keeping with our university policies which name gender identity and expression as a protected class.”

She added that gender inclusivity is one of the university’s main values, so it is necessary to periodically examine the policies for any discriminatory or restrictive language.

Rainesha Williams-Fox, Student Senate vice president for diversity affairs, said her committee has been working with Garvelink to develop a policy that is inclusive of any gender identity.

“Gender does not exist in a binary,” Williams-Fox said. “Gender is in a spectrum, in which female, male, transgender or anyone else outside or in-between should be recognized and represented equally.”

Williams-Fox acknowledged the current GVSU anti-discrimination policy, but she said it is not clear enough because it only addresses the basics. The first step is the new statement, which shows campus support for transgender students in club and intramural sports, as well as at the varsity level.

The work for a new statement came from a campus climate study, she added.

“Grand Valley has the highest self-identifying transgender population in the Midwest,” Williams-Fox said. “So we strive to be as inclusive as possible and make sure students have the resources they need.”

For more information about the You Can Play campaign, visit
www.gvsu.edu/lgbtrc/you-can-play-video-154.htm. To find resources or to report a bias incident, visit www.gvsu.edu/inclusion/.

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