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GFU, transgender student at odds on housing

Sophomores request to live on campus with male roommates next year denied by the Christian school


A transgender student at George Fox University claims the school discriminated against him by denying his application to live on campus with male friends next year.

In response to the denial of his April 3 appeal by President Robin Baker, Jaycen, or “Jayce” as he prefers, made the issue public and had a Title IX discrimination complaint filed on his behalf Friday with the U.S. Department of Education.

In addition, Jaycen’s mother, Janice, began an online petition April 3 at www.change.org that had gathered more than 4,000 signers by Tuesday morning. by: SUBMITTED - Fighting discrimination - Jaycen, a transgender student at George Fox University who goes by ‘Jayce,' has taken his fight to live on campus with male friends next year public after his appeal to do so was denied April 3 by President Robin Baker. A Title IX discrimination complaint was filed on his behalf Friday with the U.S. Department of Education.

“To Jayce, telling him he can live off campus, but not on campus, really feels like a separate-but-equal kind of situation,” said Portland lawyer Paul Southwick. “It makes him feel rejected, like he’s not good enough to fully be a part of the campus community. They will tolerate him on the margins, but not embrace him as an equal member of the campus community.”

A sophomore, Jayce transitioned from female to male socially during high school, then began the medical transition under the care of a doctor and therapist about a year ago, Southwick said.

Jayce informed the school about his intention to live with other male friends for the 2014-2015 school year and, along with his mother, began a dialogue with school officials in December.

In a meeting Feb. 12, dean of community life Mark Pothoff informed Jayce that his initial decision was that he would have to live with female students, which Jayce has done since enrolling at GFU.

Jayce responded by telling Pothoff his story and Pothoff said he would present his request to vice president for student life Brad Lau and four members of the university’s board of trustees.

It was decided during the discussion with the board that the school was “in the process of adding to our housing policy that we would house students by his/her biological birth sex,” but that in the meantime Pothoff was given approval to make a decision on Jayce’s case.

In a letter sent Feb. 24, Pothoff said the school “may be able to provide a single room” for Jayce on campus, an option both had agreed was not a good one, or would grant him permission to live off campus with male students if certain conditions were met.

The conditions included legally changing his name and gender, with specific documentation on his driver’s license and Social Security Card; that Pothoff meet with his prospective roommates to affirm they were comfortable with his situation; and that they all abide by the GFU lifestyle standards and policies.

The letter also requested that Jayce change the gender on his birth certificate and that his roommates inform their parents of the situation, essentially “outing” him to them, but both provisions were later dropped.

In the letter, Pothoff also lauded Jayce for his approach to the situation and expressed his hope that Jayce would continue to be “successful here.”

In March, Jayce hired Southwick, a George Fox alumnus and member of the LGBT alumni group OneGeorgeFox who then inquired about the existence of an internal grievance procedure and filed the appeal March 20.

“Essentially, what Jayce is asking is to be treated like any other man because he is a man, legally,” Southwick said. “He is a man medically and should be treated like any other man.”

Jayce has already changed his name legally and in March filed for a legal gender change, which Southwick expects will be granted at a hearing this week in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

The university released a statement Friday noting that Jayce was not denied on-campus housing because of the option to live in a single apartment:

“The university has researched the student’s attorney’s legal claims and believes they are without merit, especially given the religious nature of the university. The university has made many efforts to provide support and accommodation for the student and remains committed to his academic, physical, emotional and spiritual welfare.”

Southwick sees it differently, pointing out that the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has ascertained that transgender students are protected from sex-based discrimination under Title IX and Title IV.

“He wants the ability to live on campus and it should be up to him whether or not he and his friends decide to live off campus or on campus,” Southwick said. “He shouldn’t be forced to live off campus, particularly when the university touts the benefits of on-campus living in terms of social integration, learning improvement and all that.”