UNC’s new gender-neutral housing policy had a rocky beginning, and the unanimous approval of the Board of Trustees last November apparently isn’t the end of the issue. Three freshman senators have sponsored a bill in the N.C. General Assembly to prohibit students of the opposite gender from living together on campus.
The bill addresses “the University of North Carolina,” presumably meaning it would apply at all 17 campuses.
Late in 2011, Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 said he wasn’t ready to approve gender-neutral housing, saying trustees, parents, alumni and others might not fully understand what it was about. A coalition of students pressed the issue with the trustees, saying the policy was needed for protection for some students who are bullied because of their sexual orientation. Gender-neutral housing means gender is not considered — students can live with students of the opposite gender, and that is open to gay, straight and transgender students.
The trustees approved allowing students to apply for mixed-gender suites in campus dorms and mixed-gender apartments for next fall. But the policy still prohibits different-gender students from living in the same room.
David Curtis, a Lincoln County Republican and one of three primary sponsors of the bill, said in a statement: “The purpose of this bill is to help the UNC system regain its focus on the core mission of educating young people and helping them find meaningful employment in our state. UNC did not become a national leader in academics by wasting time and tax dollars on frivolous social experiments.”
Co-sponsor Chad Barefoot, a Republican representing Franklin and Wake counties, told The Daily Tar Heel the policy would cost UNC unnecessary money and time.
Kevin Claybren, a UNC junior and a member of the coalition that pushed for the policy, said: “Both of those are ill-informed statements. This is a safety issue. A safe learning environment is related to the learning environment.”
Claybren said the need arose when “LGBTQ and also heterosexual students weren’t feeling safe in their housing. It’s important for students, faculty, staff and alumni to understand how important safe housing is to academic success. This is not a frivolous social experiment.”
The policy calls for a pilot program of up to 32 students to begin next fall. A housing department official said “four or five” students had enrolled to date.
Following is the language of the bill: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, The University of North Carolina shall prohibit the assignment of members of the opposite sex to the same dormitory room, dormitory suite, or campus apartment unless the students are siblings or they are legally married and there is a valid marriage license on file at the campus housing office that documents the marriage.”
The General Assembly delegates to the UNC System Board of Governors the authority to run the system. But, just as the BOG can override individual boards of trustees, the Legislature can supersede the actions of trustees and the BOG. “The bottom line is, the Legislature passes laws, and we have to abide by the law,” said a spokesperson for the university system.
Upon the trustees’ approval, Thorp said: “Gender-neutral housing is an important project that is vital to protecting the safety of our students. Last year, I told students I supported the idea but wanted to make sure external stakeholders understood what it means.”
The LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) center worked for a year to get the policy changed.