Nebraska State College System approves transgender employee protections amid conservative criticism

Dive Brief: 

  • The governing board of the Nebraska State College System approved a policy in a 4-2 vote Thursday stating employees may self-assert a gender identity other than their sex assigned at birth and use chosen names. 
  • The policy has drawn criticism from prominent conservative politicians in the state. They include Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, who urged trustees in a letter to vote against it. 
  • Another new policy the board approved adds definitions for different types of discrimination including those based on age, race and disability and makes pregnant people a protected class. 

Dive Insight: 

Lawmakers’ opposition to the system policy underscores how transgender rights have become one of the biggest flashpoints on college campuses. Across several states, legislators have passed or proposed laws this year that would prohibit transgender women from playing on college sports teams that align with their gender identity. 

The Nebraska system enrolls about 8,400 students across three institutions serving rural communities — Chadron, Peru and Wayne State colleges. Its new policy is intended to create an inclusive work environment, according to board documents. It allows employees to use their chosen names to identify themselves, unless they’re being used for misrepresentation or to skirt legal obligations.

“Therefore, employees should respect the chosen name and gender identity of other employees whenever possible within the course of College, education, business and communication,” a meeting agenda describing the policy states. 

The policy also permits employees to determine their gender identity in the Nebraska State College’s information systems, though their sex will be used when legally required or for a business need. 

Ricketts, a Republican, cast the policy as an attack on free speech and safety, saying it would discourage those on campus from speaking and acting based on their own conclusions about what he called the “the biologically determined nature” of men and women.

“To maintain academic credibility and widespread support from Nebraskans, it is imperative that our State Colleges reject this ideological activism,” he said in a statement. 

Three Republican state senators also released a statement opposing the policy. 

System Chancellor Paul Turman told a local news outlet that gender identity has been a protected class in system policy since 2015. 

The system’s policies also line up with the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation of federal law. 

The Education Department said in June that discriminating against gay and transgender people violates Title IX, the federal law banning sex-based discrimination on campuses. The decision was based on a landmark Supreme Court ruling last year, Bostock v. Clayton County, that created those protections in federal employment law. 

In response, 20 mostly conservative states sued the Education Department in August hoping to overturn its Title IX interpretation. They say the department did not go through proper regulatory channels when it announced its reading of the federal law this summer.

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