NEWBERG — A “transgender” student — who has medically, socially and legally sought to transition from female to male — has filed a federal complaint against George Fox University because the school won’t let the student live next school year with males on campus.
As reported by a wide range of both local and national media, sophomore Jaycen Montgomery, who goes by “Jayce,” alleges in the complaint filed April 4 with the U.S. Department of Education that George Fox discriminated on the basis of sex and gender in violation of federal Title IX rules.
Officials at George Fox, in turn, believe that Montgomery’s legal claims are without merit, “especially given the religious nature of the university.”
Colleges and organizations nationally — and not only Christian institutions — are grappling with how to accommodate the increasing number of transgender individuals. Perhaps reflecting the complexity of the situation, George Fox’s statement noted that “out of respect for the student’s wishes, university staff refers to the student using the masculine pronoun.”
In a statement responding to the complaint, the Christian university calls Montgomery’s situation “complex” and says the school has extensively sought to offer support and respect to Montgomery and to provide appropriate on-campus housing, but that George Fox’s faith-based policies mean that residential facilities are single gender.
Montgomery, however, claims to be a man who deserves to be treated like any other man on campus. Reflecting that, a Multnomah County judge last month issued a court order affirming Montgomery’s male gender and allowing the student to be identified as such on driver’s license, birth certificate and with Social Security.
Montgomery told local media that the university’s decision has caused personal feelings of rejection and of being misunderstood as well as anxiety and nervousness about the years ahead at the school.
But according to the university, Montgomery has expressed to Student Life staff of feeling safe, listened to, supported and cared for at George Fox by not only staff but also students and faculty. That level of support is why the student has chosen to remain at the university, the statement added.
Montgomery’s lawyer, Paul Southwick, told PQ Monthly, a magazine serving the gay, lesbian and transgendered population in the Portland area, that George Fox on April 3 denied Montgomery’s most recent appeal on the matter.
Southwick is a Portland attorney and George Fox alumnus who heads up On God’s Campus (ongodscampus.org) an advocacy project for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students on Christian college campuses. Southwick told local media that he met Montgomery through other students he knows at George Fox.
Southwick told PQ Monthly that civil rights offices at both the federal departments of Education and Justice recently determined that all students, including transgender students, are protected from sex-based discrimination in housing matters under the law — even at religious institutions.
Furthermore, said Southwick, the university’s decision violates the Oregon Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public accommodations and housing.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will investigate Montgomery’s complaint and decide whether George Fox has violated Title IX’s anti-discrimination rules.
According to PQ Monthly, university officials including Vice President for Student Life Brad Lau and Dean of Community Life Mark Pothoff offered — in lieu of on-campus housing –—conditional approval for Montgomery to live off campus for one year with male students.. Those conditions included Montgomery legally changing name and gender by June 1 for driver’s license, Social Security card and birth certificate. The latter stipulation was later rescinded.
The magazine further reported that university officials at first insisted they must meet with all of Montgomery’s potential roommates to affirm their willingness to live with the student, and also that the roommates were to inform their own parents about the living arrangement. But that latter requirement also was rescinded because it was determined it would have violated the transgender student’s privacy rights.
The university floated one other option — providing Montgomery a single on-campus room only Montgomery would occupy, but efforts would be made to keep the student socially connected to the larger George Fox community.
But Montgomery’s complaint to the federal agency claimed that a single room would have harmed the student psychologically and socially and would prevent Montgomery from getting a quality educational experience at the university.
In recent weeks, an online petition was launched at Change.org, asking George Fox to stop denying the student’s on-campus housing request. By press time for this newspaper the petition had received 17,000 signatures, 14,000 copies of which were delivered April 12 to the university in boxes in conjunction with a rally near campus by about 50 of Montgomery’s supporters.
“George Fox University’s recent decision to deny Jayce on-campus housing with other male students has put his housing, and his education, in jeopardy, and caused him to feel rejection, rather than the love of Christ,” Montgomery’s mother is quoted on the introduction to the petition.
In its statement, the university said the petition gives an incomplete picture of the situation with Montgomery.
“George Fox is very conscious of the need to approach difficult questions with grace, understanding, and an abiding love for our students, faculty and staff,” the university’s statement summarized. “This is why we are disappointed in how the situation has escalated.”