Supporters acknowledge the change is a small one and doesn’t create new protection but said it speaks volumes about the University of Georgia community to current and potential students or faculty. It also brings the Athens campus, located about 60 miles northeast of Atlanta, in line with other universities.
“It says we do not discriminate, and we do not put up with discrimination,” business management professor Janine Aronson said.
A UGA spokeswoman said president Jere Morehead hasn’t reviewed the faculty council’s recommendation, which calls for making gender identity a specific protected category. Morehead must sign the recommendation for it to become effective.
Three other schools in the Georgia university system explicitly include gender identity in protections: Georgia Tech, Clayton State University and Georgia Perimeter College.
The recommendations at the Athens campus come amid other efforts in Georgia and the South – including a federal lawsuit against the state constitution’s ban on same-sex marriage – on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
Universities have long been a starting point for workplace equality fights. Efforts to provide full domestic partner benefits stalled at UGA in recent years but advocates may raise the issue again following fall elections.
Sue Ella Deadwyler, who writes a conservative newsletter in Georgia, called the gender identity change disturbing.
Protection against discrimination based on sex covers everyone, and no type of behavior should be elevated to that status, she said.
The only spoken opposition among UGA students and faculty was a legal argument that existing bans on discrimination based on sex also cover gender identity.
Aronson heard the same reasoning when she transitioned to living and working as female while employed as a professor at the Terry College of Business.
UGA officials said she was protected and could not lose her job, and Aronson believed them. But other faculty and students need more certainty, said Aronson, who identifies herself as the first transgender UGA faculty member.
“We’re 220 plus years old, and we are moving into the modern century,” she said.