Students, faculty discuss equal protection

Emma Austin

In celebration of Constitution Week, WKU students, faculty and staff gathered together on Tuesday afternoon for a discussion on equal protection and separation of powers, led by associate professor of history, Patricia Minter.

Minter spoke about recent controversies regarding transgender bathroom laws, giving background information on how discrimination laws against transgender people violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which protects people against discrimination on the basis of sex.

Joshua Finn, a nontraditional senior at WKU, said he came to the discussion in support of transgender rights.

“I believe knowledge is power,” Finn said. “If people are unaware of what’s going on around them, a lot of times they fear that.” Familiarizing yourself with discriminatory issues, whether it affects you personally or not, is a good way to realize your way is not always the right way, he added.

“There’s a lot of gray area,” he said. “It’s not all black and white.”

During her presentation, Minter mentioned the 23 states that sued the Obama administration over the policy allowing transgender students of public schools to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.

Finn, a drag entertainer, said he used to perform at a bar in Nashville, when the Tennessee legislature was trying to pass a bill requiring all students in public schools to use bathrooms matching their gender at birth.

“Some of the entertainers I worked with down there got with a film crew and filmed a commercial,” Finn said.

The commercial aired on a national television network to convince Tennesseans to rally against the bill, Finn said.

“You might have a child that’s transgender, or a family member, or coworker, or a friend that’s struggling with gender identity you don’t even know about,” Finn said. “Would you want them to experience discrimination and be criminalized for who they are?”

Elizabethtown senior Forrest Simeton said he came to the discussion on Tuesday afternoon without much knowledge about the context surrounding transgender equality issues, and left with a clearer understanding.

“It’s about respecting what people see themselves as,” Simeton said. He said he believes it’s important to be informed about the issue to avoid ignorance.

The Bowling Green Fairness movement is currently working to enact a local fairness ordinance to illegalize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity according to Minter, an active member of Bowling Green Fairness.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects citizens from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and nationality. Since all cities and towns must operate under Title VII, Minter said adding protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity would protect LGBT citizens in housing, employment and other public accommodations.

Although WKU has a nondiscriminatory policy protecting the rights of LGBT students, these rights aren’t protected in Bowling Green. Minter said she was glad for the LGBT students who spoke out during the discussion because it put faces to the people living under discrimination.

Minter said her interest in working with civil rights started with an interest in race relations, which grew to her current advocacy for LGBT rights.

“I just didn’t understand why people were so hateful,” Minter said. “I didn’t understand why they were so afraid of difference. And I still don’t.”

Even after getting involved with the subject on a scholarly level through her training as a legal and constitutional historian, Minter said she doesn’t understand the problem any better emotionally.

Raising awareness is one of the most effective tools to build human rights, she said.

“I think these are very important conversations to have on a college campus,” she said.

In a world where thinking on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is very much changing, Minter said it’s important for the college students and their generation to keep having conversations about these subjects.

“Visibility not only erases invisibility, but invisibility produces discrimination,” Minter said. “So one of the best ways to fight discrimination is to promote visibility. It’s harder for people to deny empathy for those they see, and those whose stories they know.”

Reporter Emma Austin can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @emmacaustin.