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Proposed Nebraska State College gender identity policy generates backlash, but doesn't change much

Chancellor Paul Turman says policy changes align with state, federal law
Posted at 6:47 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-11 11:29:27-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — Nebraska State College System Chancellor Paul Turman says changes to its discrimination and harassment policies have been misunderstood by some.

"I would say there’s at least a misrepresentation that we had not had gender identity as a protected class for a number of years," he said. "People are believing what we’re doing is actually changing that, and that we’re finally adding that for the first time, and that’s not the case."

He says gender identity has been a protected class in the system's policies since 2015.

He says 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.

The system's Board of Trustees is set to address the proposal at its meeting Thursday.

Gov. Ricketts sent the Nebraska State College System's Board of Trustees a letter on Wednesday. He wrote, in part: “Adopting the proposed policies would impose gender ideology on Nebraska State College campuses by discouraging teachers and students to speak freely and act in accordance with science and their judgments about the biologically determined nature of males and females.”

Turman said, "We don’t envision that it’s going to create an opportunity to punish employees that believe (sex and gender identity must correspond with) the sex you had a birth."

"We want a strong, conducive work environment for our employees," he said. "We encourage employees to utilize that chosen name or gender identity."

Turman said the mechanisms are currently in place to handle a claim of discrimination or harassment based on gender identity.

"Would we dismiss an employee because of an inappropriate use of a pronoun that they’re not aware of?" Turman said. "No, that’s not what the policy intends to do."

He said an original draft of the policy changes gave examples from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "that made reference to you cannot discriminate because of an individual’s chosen use of a particular restroom."

The EEOC states on its website that: "The Commission has taken the position that employers may not deny an employee equal access to a bathroom, locker room, or shower that corresponds to the employee’s gender identity. In other words, if an employer has separate bathrooms, locker rooms, or showers for men and women, all men (including transgender men) should be allowed to use the men’s facilities."

"If we were to remove (gender identity) as a classification," Turman said, "I think we would see a significant number of students that would not want to attend our institutions and when someone says I’m going to choose another institution in the state of Nebraska that does not have a policy related to that, then there aren’t many more choices because we all have that as a protected class." He said that includes private universities and colleges.

Three senators, representing all districts where the colleges are located released a statement opposing the policy revisions. Sens. Joni Albrecht (Wayne State College), Julie Slama (Peru State College), and Tom Brewer (Chadron State College).

The statement says: “The proposed revision to Board Policy 5007 and New Board Policy 5012 that incorporate gender identity ideology run into many of the same issues from the Nebraska Department of Education’s proposed health education standards, which drew opposition from the majority of State Senators in the Nebraska Legislature and thousands of concerned parents and taxpayers.”

Albrecht said the parents of a student admitted to Wayne State College told her they're concerned about the policy changes, and might not want to see their daughter attend Wayne State. She said the policy should reflect the views of Nebraskans, so that they want to stay to learn and work in the state.

Abbi Swatsworth, the executive director of Out Nebraska, said she's happy with the policy changes for bringing the system in line with federal law. She the policies, as well as leaders like Ricketts, should show support to transgender people, in order to keep LGBTQIA+ students and allies in Nebraska. She said transgender people live across the state, including in rural areas.

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