WAYNE, Neb. (KMTV) — The Nebraska State College System's Board of Trustees voted 4-2 on Thursday to approve updates to its anti-harassment and discrimination policies, including a gender identity policy.
Gov. Pete Ricketts sent a letter to the board on Wednesday. He wrote the policy "would sow division" and criticized the "inclusion of 'gender identity as a protected class" as "ideological and unscientific." He said "acknowledging gender identity as a protected class" would increase the risk of sexual assault by giving "men access to women's bathrooms" and would violate free speech by forcing employees to use the pronouns that align with the individual's gender identity.
The system's chancellor, Paul Turman, told 3 News Now that gender identity has been a protected class in the system's policies since 2015. He said changes to Board Policy 5007 add a definition for every protected class. It adds pregnancy as a protected class. It clarifies that discrimination against hairstyle can be a form of race discrimination, in accordance with Nebraska's Legislative Bill 451 passed earlier this year.
Board Policy 5012 was "put in place primarily to help guide employees" regarding changes to its Human Resources software. It clarifies that employees may use their gender identity and chosen name, except when legal name and sex are required or "abuse" of the policy, such as "offensive or derogatory" names. It says "employees should respect the chosen name and gender identity of other employees wherever possible within the course of College, education, business and communication."
"We actually approved the policy for students to do the same thing back in July," Turman said.
Gender identity has been a federally protected class since the Supreme Court ruled last year that the Civil Rights Act's also covers sexual orientation and gender identity. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says employees must be allowed to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Before it was passed today, that example was removed from the state college's policy amid the backlash.
"Whether or not an example is explicitly listed, doesn't mean the school can't use that example," said Abbi Swatsworth of OutNebraska. "Transgender people are actually the folks who are more at risk in bathrooms than cisgender folks."