NEWBERG — The federal government says George Fox University was within its rights to not allow a transgender student to live on campus with male friends.
In response to a March 29 request from George Fox, the U.S. Department of Education recently granted a religious exemption regarding student Jayce Montgomery from Title IX, which prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. The federal agency also dismissed a discrmination complaint Montgomery had filed against the private Christian university.
The complaint was filed because George Fox had said no to Montgomery living in an on-campus apartment with other men.
Born female, Montgomery was registered that way when first admitted to George Fox, but in recent months completed the legal process of a gender reassignment from female to male and had initiated steps medically to make that transition.
The university said it had extensively sought to offer support and respect to Montgomery and to provide appropriate on-campus housing, but insisted that George Fox’s faith-based policies and convictions required that shared residential facilities be single-gender.
Extensive negotiations took place between George Fox, Montgomery and Paul Southwick, the student’s attorney. One offer made by the university was that Montgomery, in lieu of on-campus housing, live off campus for one year with male students, but with several conditions to be met. Another was that Montgomery be provided a single on-campus room that only Mont-gomery would occupy, but that efforts would be made to keep socially connected to the larger campus community.
Claiming, though, to be a man who deserves to be treated like any other man on campus, Montgomery charged that the university’s decision had caused personal feelings of rejection as well as anxiety and nervousness.
Montgomergy expressed shock and disappointment to local media about the granting of the federal exemption to George Fox. Montgomery went on to say that the ruling allows discrimination to take place with the government’s stamp of approval.
Southwick is a Portland attorney and George Fox alumnus who heads up On God’s Campus (ongods campus.org), an advocacy project for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students on Christian college campuses. With Southwick’s help, Montgomergy launched an online petition at Change.org, asking George Fox to stop denying the student’s on-campus housing request. As of last month, the petition had received 21,000 signatures.
Southwick told the Newberg Graphic newspaper that Montgomery intends to appeal the federal decision to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Southwick noted that such an appeal might question whether the stance of the university, which is a Friends (Quaker) institution, is actually in line with current Friends theology.
The Graphic reported that Montgomery does not intend to leave George Fox and has found an off-campus house that will be shared with male friends.
According to the website Inside Higher Ed, another transgender rights case in which Southwick was involved has been resolved in favor of California Baptist University. That university rescinded the 2011 acceptance of a male student who applied as a female. According to Inside Higher Ed, a California judge recently ruled the university had the right to expel the student, but not to ban the student from campus.