The Nebraska State College System trustees are meeting Thursday in Lincoln facing a firestorm of controversy over a pair of gender identity policies that have been demonized by conservative politicians and groups.
The Nebraska Family Alliance and Nebraska Catholic Conference started the attacks earlier this month, calling the policies ideologically driven and violating the free speech rights of state college students, faculty, and staff.
The groups said the policies require the use of the personal pronouns preferred by the person being addressed and allow biological men to use women’s bathrooms, locker rooms, and private spaces. Governor Pete Ricketts quickly followed with a statement raising the same objections, then repeated them this week in a letter to the college trustees.
College System Chancellor Paul Turman says the 2 policies under attack aren’t new because gender identity has been in policy as a protected class since 2015 in direct response to federal court rulings as well as recommendations from legal counsel.
Turman says the biggest change in the policies is simply their format – putting definitions up front. One is also being expanded to reflect new state laws or court rulings such as pregnancy being a protected class and actions against hairstyles being a possible form of racial discrimination under a state law passed this year.
Board Policy 5012 is new, but Turman says it simply clarifies existing rules and practices, including that “employees should respect the chosen name and gender identification of employees wherever possible.”
The governor and other opponents say the language discourages teachers and students from speaking freely and acting on their own judgements about gender identity, but Turman doesn’t see that happening.
He points out there are already mechanisms in place to handle claims of discrimination or harassment based on gender identity, adding that if using a transgender person’s preferred name or pronoun is a problem, use the last name.
As for biological men being allowed to use women’s restrooms, Turman says it’s based on a person’s gender identity with a male living as a female being able to use women’s facilities.
The state senators with the state colleges in their districts – Tom Brewer, Julie Slama, and Joni Albrecht – released a joint statement opposing the policies. They compare it to the state education department’s now-discarded draft health education guidelines.