In April, a female-to-male transgender student named Jayce filed a discrimination complaint with the Department of Education after George Fox University denied his request to live with male friends on campus. He didn’t know that just five days before, the university had asked the Department of Education for a religious exemption from Title IX as it applies to transgender students.
Title IX is the section of a 1972 education law that prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.
In May, the U.S. Department of Education granted George Fox’s request for a religious exemption from the law. Jayce, who goes by his first name only because he’s worried about harassment, wouldn’t learn about the exemption for more than a month, when the Department of Education closed his discrimination complaint.
Jayce’s lawyer, Paul Southwick, said he was disappointed that George Fox and the Department of Education hadn’t let them know the school was pursing an exemption. “I found out about a week ago, after the Department of Education decided to close Jayce’s complaint, “Southwick says. “We put everything on the table for them, and we felt that in return, we deserved some transparency from them, and we didn’t receive it.”
In an online statement Friday, a spokesman for George Fox wrote that providing housing to transgender students was a challenge for institutions across the country. “The university sought this exemption to preserve its right to draw on its religious convictions to handle situations related to students experiencing gender identity issues. Other colleges have received similar Title IX exemptions in the past,” he wrote.
According to the letter the U.S. Department of Education sent to George Fox granting the exemption, the university described itself a Christ-centered community, owned by the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends, a Quaker group. In its request for the exemption, George Fox cited a biblical belief that humans are created male and female and said it “cannot in good conscience support or encourage an individual to live in conflict with biblical principles.”
Jayce sees things differently. He said he wasn’t aware of any passage in the Bible addressing transgender people, and didn’t see a conflict between his Christian faith and his decision to transition to live as a man.
“I’ve gone to church since as long as I can remember. And I’m not an expert on the Bible, but I do know that God and Jesus, they’re loving and accepting people and they welcome everybody,” he said.
George Fox said it has offered Jayce an on-campus single apartment. Jayce said he’s concerned about getting depressed living alone and he plans to live with male friends off campus instead. He said he’s not considering leaving the school, which he attends with the help of a scholarship, and where he feels supported by fellow students. Jayce said he wants to start a conversation between the LGBTQ community and people of faith. “You have to fight the battles where they haven’t been fought before,” he said.
Paul Southwick said he will appeal the Department of Education’s decision to grant George Fox a religious exemption to Title IX. He said Jayce has the support of two local Quaker pastors. “Any other man on campus gets to live with his buddies on campus. Jayce does not. Jayce is legally a male, socially a male, medically a male,” he said.