Jayce M. Carries On, Undeterred; George Fox Refuses to Change Course

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IMG_0750By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
“Our members know the pain of difference.†– Joint letter from Oregon’s major minority bar associations “Not being allowed to live on campus has been difficult for me this year. It’s like I’m allowed to be at George Fox but I’m not fully allowed to be at George Fox. It’s one thing to choose to live off campus with your friends; it’s another thing to be forced to live off campus. It’s not something that the other students have to go through.†– Jayce M. Last spring, we introduced you to Jayce M., an African-American transgender student at George Fox who wants to live on campus with his friends this year. Unfortunately, after a lengthy appeals process, he was ultimately denied on-campus housing by the university — and George Fox stands by its decision. Jayce, a junior at the Christian university of liberal arts and sciences located in Newberg, Ore., has medically, socially, and legally transitioned. Courts have affirmed his identity. Portland attorney Paul Southwick, of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, filed a Title IX discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education after repeated efforts to find an amicable solution with George Fox administrators and after Jayce was denied his final appeal. In July, the U.S. Department of Education closed (and ostensibly denied) Jayce’s complaint, granting George Fox college a "religious exemption," and for the time being dashing any hope Jayce had of living on campus with the rest of his friends and classmates. Religious exemptions, it seems, are becoming the new normal. Exemptions historically take years to get, according to Southwick. George Fox got theirs in just a few months. The school applied for it — in secret — while meeting with Jayce and — at the time — seemingly negotiating in good faith. The college, it seemed, never intended to change its policies. PQ received an email from the Department of Education shortly after we broke the story about Jayce’s appeal. They disagreed with the contention that GFU’s exemption was particularly speedy — they also said: "The Department of Education enforces Title IX's prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sex, including gender identity, in any education program or activity operated by a recipient of federal taxpayer dollars. However, Title IX also provides an exemption for institutions controlled by religious organizations to the extent that Title IX conflicts with the religious tenets of the controlling organization. We are committed to protecting all students from unlawful discrimination consistent with these statutory requirements." But Jayce’s battle is far from over. Jayce and alumni with petitionsEarlier this month, PQ Monthly learned most of the major minority bar associations in Oregon (the Oregon Hispanic Bar Association, Oregon Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Oregon Minority Lawyers Association, Oregon Women Lawyers, and OGALLA: The LGBT Bar Association of Oregon) submitted a joint letter to George Fox University's board of trustees, calling on the university to change course and to treat Jayce and other trans students better — and equally. From the letter: “Our members know the emotional, financial, and physical pang of discrimination based on who we are. Our members know the pain of difference. We wholeheartedly support Jayce and his right to be who he is.†And, “as lawyers, business people, and community leaders, you should recognize that George Fox's policy spotlights the school as discriminatory and hurtful.†It went on: “GFU cannot honor Jayce while at the same time denying him the full reality of who he is. Denying Jayce the right to live with other males is such an act, a strikingly poignant one. We recognize that GFU has offered Jayce his own apartment on campus, but that offer itself is a sword that incises into Jayce’s psyche the fact that GFU does not, in fact, accept him for who he is. Setting Jayce aside in his own housing would deny his identity, degrade his self-worth, deny other students the benefit of his company, and so isolate Jayce as to drive home day in and day out the pain of difference.†All of this has made Jayce an accidental activist of sorts. “I’m having an unusual college experience,†he says. “I’ve become a voice for marginalized communities at George Fox. I wasn’t looking for this but it came to me when the university denied my housing request. There are a lot of voices at George Fox, and in the broader Christian community, that get silenced or ignored, including the voices of people of color, the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.†“Not being allowed to live on campus has been difficult for me this year,†he continues. “It’s like I’m allowed to be at George Fox but I’m not fully allowed to be at George Fox. It’s one thing to choose to live off campus with your friends; it’s another thing to be forced to live off campus. It’s not something that the other students have to go through, so it makes me feel singled out.†On campus, it’s mostly support from his peers: “I am finding a lot of support from students though. Lots of students support me, even if they don’t completely understand or agree with everything. Some of the staff has been supportive as well but it’s hard to feel completely supported by residence life and student life staff when they won’t treat me like the other men at school.†Jayce, who lives off campus with four male classmates — they share a condo close to campus — still loves his school, despite the challenges. “I still love being a student at George Fox. My friends and professors are great. I’ve also become one of the leaders of Common Ground, the unofficial LGBTQ student group on campus. And I’m really busy with classes and work.†And, during rare down time, basketball, video games, and socializing. “It definitely has been overwhelming sometimes. But I’ve been able to connect with a lot of great people because of it. And I think it is helping younger transgender people feel like they can be themselves and stand up for themselves.†Jayce supporters with signsEarly this month, Jayce and his lawyer, Southwick, filed a formal complaint with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the organization that oversees George Fox's accreditation status, and Southwick re-filed Jayce's updated housing complaint with the Department of Education and it is once again under review. In the lengthy letter to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Southwick makes a compelling case. “Jayce and his roommates, who were forced to live off campus this year because of George Fox’s actions, are all African-American males. Finding off-campus housing at the last minute, particularly in a predominantly white community, has been very difficult for them on a practical level. However, beyond the practical difficulties, the fact that four of the very few African-American students on campus were forced to move off campus in order to live together, while their non-African-American classmates were allowed to remain on campus, increased the level of stigma Jayce experienced, and continues to experience, as a result of George Fox University’s actions.†“We also refiled his Title IX complaint with the Department of Education,†Southwick tells PQ. “The Department of Justice is also continuing to review his complaint under the Fair Housing Act.†So, for now, Jayce waits — again. And our community holds out hope that someone — somewhere — will end up doing the right thing.