Student officials from MSU and the University of Montana continue to advocate for the Board of Regents (BOR) to amend its statewide non-discrimination policy.
Currently, the Montana University System’s (MUS) policy does not protect students and staff from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. MSU’s campus non-discrimination policy includes sexual orientation, but not gender identity. Proponents of the change want to see both components added to the statewide policy.
As of now, the issue has not made the agenda at any of the BOR’s bimonthly meetings since discussion over the policy began last fall. According to BOR Chair Angela McLean, the board wants to be “thorough in considering all facets of the policy change.” She added that campuses should have a “full understanding as to what changes need to be made and the impacts of those changes.”
Though a majority of regents are supportive of the system-wide change, said Kiah Abbey, outgoing ASMSU president, they would like to see an implementation plan before voting so they can “move forward thoughtfully.”
However, Abbey is part of a “working group” that has been developing an implementation plan this year. A variety of representatives, mostly from from MSU and UM — including UM’s dean of students — compose this working group.
“Nobody thought this would be a short process,” Abbey explained, “and a really thoughtful implementation plan will be more effective for all of us.”
The group’s implementation plan is composed of three steps — beginning, intermediate and advanced — with the idea that all campuses can comply with the inexpensive first step and move forward as they receive money for the intermediate and advanced steps.
“It is unrealistic to think the university system has money to make these changes right now,” Abbey said. “That doesn’t mean that it can’t happen and doesn’t mean that it won’t happen.”
One area of the potential three-step plan involves the implementation of “non-gendered” restrooms. A beginning step, for example, would be for campuses to post signs directing students “who do not feel comfortable going to the binary, gendered bathrooms” to single-occupancy, “family” restrooms. The intermediate step would require more funding, and could involve making slight changes or remodels to existing restrooms to make them family
The advanced step would require that every new building on campus has a family restroom. “I am going to demand that MSU strive for that,” Abbey said.
Jamee Greer, a community organizer and lobbyist from the Montana Human Rights Network, emphasized the importance of a “statewide university policy that sets the tone from the top down,” saying there are “a lot of different roadblocks and sentiments in the way of [LGBT students] being successful.”
Right now there is a “patchwork quilt” of protections for LGBT students across Montana, he said.
However, Greer explained he has been “impressed by UM and MSU’s student bodies” — and not just representatives from student government — in their efforts to get the discussion of amending the non-discrimination policy onto the BOR agenda.