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U.S. Dept. of Justice Tells Ark. University to Allow Transwoman to Use Bathroom

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Friday May 25, 2012
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A transgender student from the University of Arkansas at Ft. Smith is now allowed to use the school’s women’s bathrooms after the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent a letter to the college telling officials to revise their policy, Campus Reform reported.

Jennifer Braly, 38, a transgender woman, filed a complaint with the DOJ because the university’s officials told her that she could not use the women’s bathrooms on the school’s campus. They did, however, insist that she could use the "gender-neutral bathrooms."

"Some saw me using the women’s public restrooms and complained," Braly said. "[O]ne problem to this is there are not unisex bathrooms in every building. Especially the two main buildings where most of my classes are, so I have to go to a completely different building to use the restroom."

Staff members of the university’s administration, however, claim that they tried to work with Braly. "We tried to make reasonable accommodation and to find a common ground, converting the number of bathrooms on campus to gender-neutral," Mark Horn the vice president of university relations, said.

The university backed down after the DOJ sent a letter to the school, demanding that they review their policies and allow Braly to use the women’s restroom.

"[T]he office of civil rights basically made its expectations through the attorney and the decision was made to respond to that direction," said Horn. "[T]he DOJ complaint caused revisiting of our thinking. [T]he office of civil rights basically made its expectations through the attorney and the decision was made to respond to that direction," he added. "[T]he DOJ complaint caused revisiting of our thinking."

Allowing transgender people to use the bathroom has been a controversial subject. In January, Tennessee conservative lawmakers introduced a bill called the "Bathroom Harassment Act," which would fine a transgender person $50 for using a public bathroom or dressing room.

State Rep. Richard Floyd strongly supported the act and even said he would physically assault a transgender person.

"I believe if I was standing at a dressing room and my wife or one of my daughters was in the dressing room and a man tried to go in there -- I don’t care if he thinks he’s a woman and tries on clothes with them in there -- I’d just try to stomp a mudhole in him and then stomp him dry," Floyd said.

"Don’t ask me to adjust to their perverted way of thinking and put my family at risk. We cannot continue to let these people dominate how society acts and reacts."

But the Chattanooga Times Press ran an online poll asking readers if "transgender people should be required to use the bathroom of their birth gender." Nearly 90 percent of voters said "no."

Although Braly can now use the women’s bathroom, some female students are not pleased with the school’s decision, the article on the conservative blog notes.

’’I disagree with allowing a male to use the female restrooms," Amanda Shook, a senior at the university, told Campus Reform. "Even if they are a transgendered person, they are still a man, and should have to use the men’s restroom."

When the ultra-conservative website Free Republic posted the article, many readers also agreed with the female student’s position.

"Whoever approved this ’person’ for admittance to the university should be severely disciplined," one person wrote. "They’re going to have to add a urinal to the ladies’ room then," another said.

This isn’t the first time the 36-year-old has been surrounded in controversy.

Not that long ago, Braly was scheduled to give a lecture on gender and sexuality at the school but moments before she was to speak, the event was cancelled, according to the blog the Guerilla Angel Report. Braly received an email from Dr. Rita Barrett - the school’s associate professor of psychology and department chair.

"All of my faculty are now diligently preparing for the closure of the semester. They must be in compliance with their syllabi, grading, final exams, graduation exercises, etc. and it is impossible to afford more class time to accommodate an additional speaker at one week before finals," the email said. "Therefore, your scheduled speaking engagements in any course in my department (PSYC, CJ, SOCI, ANTH) have been cancelled. This includes the two scheduled for tomorrow Friday April 20th in Dr. Laura King’s classes."

But the student claims that the lecture was cancelled because she is a transgender person. There is a petition on Change.org asking people to allow Braly to "speak freely about gender and sexuality." Nearly 700 people have signed the online petition.

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