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University: Student must prove gender

BY BRIAN MAFFLY, The Salt Lake Tribune

Kourt_2For his entire childhood, Kourt Osborn felt as if he were playing a character in a play. But when the play was over, he kept his costume on and continued pretending to be someone he was not: a girl.

Now a college student two years after initiating transgender treatment and living as a man, he has found that Southern Utah University housing officials cannot accommodate him because he lacks medical documentation that "proves" he is male.

Citing criteria that Osborn's supporters denounce as arbitrary and an invasion of medical privacy, university officials insist on proof that transgender students have undergone various medical interventions, including surgery, or that they have been diagnosed with "gender identity disorder."

"SUU administrators could have taken this opportunity to reach out and better understand the issues transgender students face as they seek access to public education," said Valerie Larabee of the the Utah Pride Center. "Their invasive requirements for Kourt to be granted access to housing are yet another example of the need for nondiscrimination policies which include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression."

But Neuman Duncan, SUU's housing director, said the school is not discriminating against transgender students. Instead, it is simply following a policy to ensure the comfort and safety of all students.

"He has not transgendered completely so we are unable to assign him men's housing," Duncan said. SUU's housing policy requires that transgender students provide a letter from a doctor that says they have undergone all necessary treatments and hormone therapy has been complete. "Where they're in the process [of gender transition] I have no place to put them," he said.

Equality advocates criticized SUU's policies as "old thinking," saying they use irrelevant criteria for determining gender.

"That they would require someone to have surgery to live in the dorm is just wrong. It's absolutely irrelevant. They don't ask anyone else for proof of gender. They shouldn't be checking his genitals," said Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality. "Universities shouldn't be making medical decision for students."

Osborn has filed a formal grievance with SUU. Because of publicity about his case, a Cedar City resident has offered him an apartment, but he still hopes SUU revises its housing policies and apologizes.

"I never was a woman. I was a boy trapped in this foreign girl's body," said Osborn, now 22. "Transgendering allowed me to take off the costume and make-up and allowed me to be who I am."

Osborn grew up in Kanab, where he now lives with his family and is awaiting a return to Cedar City next month to resume school as a sociology major.

After his freshman year at SUU, where he lived in the women's dormitory, he went to Philadelphia in 2005 to undergo hormone therapy and live in a transgender community. He plans eventually to go to the University of Utah, where he expects to be accommodated.

Regarding surgery, which has been the sticking point with SUU officials, Osborn decided it was unnecessary.

"It's really expensive and really invasive," he said. "It's quite often not functional. A lot of things can go wrong."

Advocates dismiss the notion that surgery is necessary to complete gender transition.

"No surgery is going to remove the discomfort other people have," said Will Carlson, Equality Utah's policy director. "It's important for people to face these stigma."

Keisling believes gender has nothing to do with genitals.

"Kourt isn't a man because he says he is a man. He just is and they should respect it because it is. It isn't about surgery," Keisling says. "Colleges are supposed to be safe places to learn and that means all the students have to be safe."

bmaffly@sltrib.com

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