Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 18, 2024

Trans students and allies protest University policies

By MICHELLE LIMPE | October 20, 2021



One issue being protested was the University's refusal to cover certain gender-affirming surgeries, which the institution classifies as "cosmetic,”  under its health insurance.

Hopkins affiliates gathered in front of Gilman Hall last Friday to protest the transphobia students have experienced with University policies. 

Leaders of the campaign outlined their demands in a letter to the administration that was circulated within the student body. At the event, members of the community shared their grievances on these issues. 

Luce deLire, a PhD student, organized the event in partnership with Teachers and Researchers United (TRU), an unofficial graduate student union, and the Hopkins Minorities and Philosophy chapter. 

DeLire opened the event by listing the demands of the letter. According to deLire, one of the prominent issues faced by the trans community at Hopkins is how its members are identified. The Student Information System (SIS) requires that students input their dead name — the birth name of someone who has since changed it — in the system if they are unable to legally change their name. 

“Some students do not have the legal means to change their names at all. We're asking the University to update their heinous name policies in SIS and the cloud management software,” she said. “I have been at this University for seven years, and the administration still has yet to fix this issue.”

DeLire maintained that she has talked to IT staff about the issue. They told her that the technical issue can be easily addressed on their end if the University made it a mandate. 

She emphasized the importance of discussing these issues in an interview with The News-Letter. 

“The University is basically diverting any possible action towards progress. They're putting people at risk and supporting the wrong people,” she said. “We need to raise awareness for the issue and shame people. We know from various other actions that this administration only reacts to pressure.”

Jo Giardini, a member of TRU’s organizing committee, explained in an interview with The News-Letter that the Hopkins Hospital was one of the first institutions in the U.S. to provide gender assignment surgeries. However, former Hopkins Hospital psychiatrist-in-chief Dr. Paul McHugh shut down the trans health clinic in 1979. He is still currently the University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry.

“The University needs to seriously reconsider the damage it has abetted by allowing his policies to impact not just health policies but also the worldwide conversation on how we respect and value trans people,” they said. 

Morris Speller, a postdoctoral fellow, shared that he had similar issues in 2015. At that time, he followed the procedures by filing a Title IX complaint and contacting the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE). Even after he changed his legal name, it was difficult for him to update his paperwork at the registrar’s office.

“It may be an individual issue, but it affects everyone in the trans community. They promised me six years ago that they would fix the issue, but they obviously have not,” he said. “It even made it difficult for me to teach in my class because I never used my legal name, but it was on all the computer systems.”

Sophomore Eirnin Mahoney, who legally changed their name right before coming to Hopkins, saw their dead name on a Hopkins portal recently.

“I wasn’t even hurt. I was confused. It’s been a year, and my dead name is still popping up on University websites,” they said. “Unfortunately, I was already in the University system before my name was legally changed, but the registrar has not fixed this.” 

Demere Woolway, executive director of Inclusive Excellence Education and Development in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, noted that the University’s preferred name policy covers all of the registrar’s systems in an email to The News-Letter

“Over the past year, there have been a number of ways we have improved the preferred name systems, and we have also newly created the opportunity to share pronouns in computer systems,” she wrote. “JHU is dedicated to being an inclusive campus that supports trans and non-binary individuals, and we are always working toward improving policy and practice to align with these values.”

Mahoney stated that, though students can add their pronouns on SIS and platforms like Zoom, some professors still fail to use their students’ correct pronouns. DeLire maintained that the University’s preferred name policy and pronoun sharing options are a smokescreen for the larger structural issues within the University. 

Shanon Shumpert, vice provost of OIE, explained that the office’s policies are meant to protect students from discrimination based on their gender identity in an email to The News-Letter. She recognized the importance of the trans community’s demands, asserting that the OIE is aware of them.

“OIE has worked with university partners to create a more inclusive environment for trans and non-binary community members, through training and education,” she wrote. “Over the last several years we have pledged our support and implemented policies for the usage of affirmed names and pronouns across many of our systems.” 

According to her, the University’s guidelines are in compliance with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

DeLire also discussed the health-insurance coverage of graduate students, which does not cover procedures such as facial feminization or electrolysis surgeries because they are classified as “cosmetic.”

“In the inversion of that claim, what is not cosmetic are just primary sex characteristics. They fund your bottom surgery but not your face, which is a totally cis-gendered and transphobic image of what trans means,” she said. “Access to facial procedures like these can massively alleviate those suffering from body dysmorphia. The University also allegedly has an unlimited budget for trans health.”

Speller asserted that while Hopkins covered some of his gender-affirming surgeries, he had to seek out legal support outside of the University. 

“If they were actually committed to having these things covered, then they should have competent providers who understand the gatekeeping in the medical system,” he said. “Even with the care they provide, I have not encountered trans-competent caregivers and medical providers. I’ve even encountered some that are transphobic. Now, I do not go to the health center if I can help it.”

Mahoney shared similar experiences of trans exclusivity, where a medical professional asked them if they are a boy or girl when they asked for a hormone. 

“Those options did not work for me. Now, I have to go outside the University system to get care, which is ridiculous,” they said. “I go to Hopkins. All my medical care should be taken care of through the system, but it was just one of the more traumatizing trans-related experiences I’ve had.”

Moreover, the School of Advanced International Studies recently bestowed an honorary degree to Angela Merkel, who has been the chancellor of Germany for the past sixteen years, for her work in defending human rights. However, the trans community asserted that she does not deserve this award because of her indolence toward changing Germany’s transphobic laws, despite constitutional courts calling for these alterations. 

Junior Eleanor Franklin, who attended the protest, explained that the trans community needs to be given a seat at the table in order to change the common misconceptions surrounding these issues. 

“A lot of people have a misconception that it's something small and stupid, but it is a very big deal,” they said. “For so long, all of the decisions have been determined by people who do not understand trans experiences. There's no sensitivity to that. It’s a huge job to understand that these issues are very harmful.”

Based on their experience working with the Sexual Assault Resource Unit, Franklin has seen that sexual misconduct disproportionately affects the trans population at Hopkins. However, they asserted that the administration’s general responses to student issues have been neither sympathetic nor understanding.

According to Giardini, the University should provide training and support resources for its staff to adequately respond to the issues of the trans community. 

“Hopkins should also not rely on the labor of these same trans and queer students in order to make that happen,” they said. “Most importantly, the administration needs to update the sexist SIS system immediately. Those are easy things that they should have been doing decades ago.”

Woolway outlined the kinds of support that the Office of LGBTQ Life provides for Hopkins affiliates, encouraging them to connect with the office virtually. 

“Our website provides a number of different resources, including information about all-gender restrooms, educational resources, and health insurance,” she wrote. “We also provide a peer mentorship program. When we are once again fully staffed, we will resume our Transgender and Non-Binary Meetup, ongoing educational trainings and more.”

According to her, the Office of LGBTQ Life has partnered with Student Health and Wellness Center to create a committee to improve health services for trans students.

In the interview with The News-Letter, deLire called on undergraduates to be allies with the LGBTQ+ community. 

“The administration will only react to pressure, especially from the undergraduates because all they care about is money,” she said. “We, as graduate students, are just cheap labor to them. All the administration cares about is putting out an inclusive image, but they don’t actually care about their students.”

Senior Jimmy Pitingolo stressed that undergraduate students need to be invested in how Hopkins is treating people, even if they do not plan to extend their tenure at Hopkins past four years.

“They need to be more aware of the ways that graduate students are mistreated because Hopkins takes advantage of the fact that they do not have leverage or power,” he said. “For allies of the trans community, you have to use your privilege. You have the privilege to be comfortable and silent, but that's not a privilege afforded to everybody.” 

He urged the student body to make an effort to be aware of these issues affecting the rest of the Hopkins community.

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