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Hey Religious Schools! Being Trans is Not Fraud

Hey Religious Schools! Being Trans is Not Fraud

One trans woman is suing a religious university for kicking her out on the grounds that she had committed “fraud” because she didn’t disclose that she is trans. This fight matters, and here’s why.

Twenty-six year old California resident Domaine Javier was riding high when she was accepted by California Baptist University’s nursing program with two scholarships, one for her academic ability and another for her audition to the university’s woman’s chorus. Javier has a long term ambition to be a nurse, and felt like her life was now on the right track.

Seemingly quite apart from this, once in school, Javier went on to appear in an episode of MTV reality show “True Life,” an Emmy-award winning show that aims to catch a glimpse of the diverse experiences of young people from different backgrounds growing up in America today. In that episode, Javier revealed that she is living her life as a now gender affirmed woman who was born male.

Relatively soon after that episode aired in 2011, Javier received a letter from the California Baptist University, telling her that she was expelled and accusing her of committing fraud.  The university says that when, on enrollment, Javier ticked a box identifying herself as female she should have ticked the box marked “male” because that was the sex she was born. Both Javier’s Social Security records and her driver’s license identify her as female and, as a result, the state of California recognizes her as the woman she is.

The university also maintains that Javier is living outside of the university’s stringent religious code, essentially by her being trans. While there are a number of provisions in the highly demanding university code of conduct, including one against same-sex marriage and sex outside of marriage, there appears to be absolutely no mention of trans identity, or even any loosely analogous language to that effect. It seems the university has supposed that its so-called “Biblical ethos” that is mentioned throughout the student handbook covers a ban on gender transition, but this is heavily disputed.

The lawsuit, which was heard last week in a California Riverside court, asserts that the university is in clear violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, an act that essentially applies to all California businesses (and appears to cover universities in this regard) and prohibits discrimination against standard classes like race and ethnic background. While federal law carries religious exemptions, the Unruh Civil Rights Act gives no special power to religious universities to discriminate on grounds of their faith. What’s more, the Act specifically prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex and gender identity.

Previous rulings by the federal courts have been conflicting in how this should apply to religious entities, with some saying that hospital staff cannot discriminate against gay people on the grounds of religious objections. However, in this case it actually appears that precedent goes against claims like Javier’s, with the circuit court ruling that universities do have the right to expel students based on a violation of the university’s religious ethos as protected under federal law.

However, Javier’s legal team, which involves the ACLU, is arguing that this particular charge is different. The idea that Javier committed “fraud” is injurious to Javier, her team argues, as well as that she in good faith recorded all of the details that were demanded by the contract she signed with the university — in effect, it’s not her fault that the university didn’t specify that being trans would be a disqualifying factor — and that the university broke that contract for a supposed violation that, Javier contends, isn’t mentioned anywhere in the university’s code of conduct.

“I believe that education is for everyone, regardless of their gender,” Javier is quoted as saying. “Everyone deserves a shot at a bright future. CBU deprived me of this right and treated me unfairly — something no one deserves.”

During the court hearing into this case, NBC reports the university’s legal representation (which has so far refused to comment on this issue) refused to use female pronouns when referring to Javier, transphobia that in addition with the distasteful charge of fraud suggest that the university isn’t just discriminating by the letter of its law but really means to hammer home its transphobia.

The law in this situation is quite complex. On the one hand, the university is a private religious university and can demand of its students a great deal in terms of complying with its expectations. However, in terms of fairness practices, Javier is a committed Catholic and has so far not been accused of any other violation. If the university did not specifically ban trans applicants, which it doesn’t seem to have done, it seems Javier has a strong claim.

This speaks to a series of cases that have happened across the United States where religious entities that are trans-hostile are facing discrimination complaints and lawsuits because of their sometimes legal but always unfair practice of excluding trans people. Given that federal law arguably places a great deal of weight on sex discrimination claims though, this could be an interesting fight and how the courts will balance this complaint will be read as having a wider meaning for other trans people and religious entities throughout the United States.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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68 comments

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2:15PM PDT on Aug 2, 2014

Where is the "trans" box on those forms? I haven't seen it on any forms I have ever filled out.

6:05PM PDT on Jun 16, 2014

Ridiculous.

5:59PM PDT on Jun 16, 2014

Solution : Stop signing up to religious institutions, and let them die the death they deserve for having b.c.e. ideologies in c.e..

4:35AM PDT on May 6, 2014

Situations like this make me feel religion is not doing humanity any good!

6:43PM PDT on May 5, 2014

noted, thanks and let us hope she has a good lawyer....

10:13AM PDT on May 4, 2014

Thank-you for sharing. T.R

8:00AM PDT on May 4, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

7:34PM PDT on May 3, 2014

Okay first of all, sex (also referred to as genitals) and gender are two different things. BOOM! Have I blown your mind? Sex is something you're born with, gender is what your brain thinks. These two things don't always match up. Saying that a transgender person is still the gender they feel is wrong, because that's what they were born with is ridiculous. Let's make up a metaphorical situation to help you understand. Say there was a toaster, but it always felt more like a blender. After struggling with the idea, it decides to have it's parts changed, a long and difficult process. It has it's circuitry re-wired, it exchanges it's crumb tray for high-powered blades, among many other things. It took a while. When it first started, people would go "What is that THING?" But, in the end, the blender knew that it was worth it, because it finally looked and functioned as what the blender always felt. Would you still call the blender a toaster? No, because that wouldn't make any sense. It looks like a blender, it sounds like a blender, it IS a blender, and it always has been.

5:04AM PDT on May 3, 2014

Thank you for sharing.

4:41AM PDT on May 2, 2014

Here we go again!!! Thanks Alex P excellent comments you realy are good I´m sure at kicking butts,as you Americans say.I´m confused that she continued to use a male christian name.Javier is Spanish or Xavier in Catalan either way it´s the same ole story of religion rearing it´s ugly head!

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