Our contract needs to protect queer and trans GEs. Here’s why.

GTFF President and former Queer Caucus chair Leslie Selcer read this testimony at our September 14 bargaining session, in support of our assertion in Article 8 that “Persistent, ongoing refusal or failure by supervising university employees to accurately adhere to a GE’s chosen gendered language constitutes gender-based discrimination.” Previously, at our August 31 session, UO claimed to have stricken this line on the basis of religious freedom. Read Leslie’s statement below, or watch a video version on our Instagram.

Before I was elected GTFF’s president, I served in many other roles. One of those roles was Queer Caucus chair from 2021-2022. Through this role and my personal queer community, I met and became familiar with the stories of many queer and trans GEs at this university. 

Unfortunately, some of those people are no longer here at UO. Today, I want to share the story of someone who isn’t here anymore–a colleague and dear friend who resigned and left graduate school after suffering three years of relentless, systemic transphobia in their workplace, including constant misgendering by their direct supervisors. 

This behavior occurred not only in person in their workplace, but also in written correspondence, including emails from supervisors. They even had their pronouns removed from official department-level documents where they had chosen to list them. But it’s not just about the behavior of the supervisors within a vacuum; it’s about the fact that these supervisors represent the position of the UO on what is and is not acceptable behavior within UO workplaces. The model of systematic discrimination set by direct supervisors and faculty further enabled undergraduates and other graduate students to also engage in the same behavior, leading to an overall culture of systematic transphobic discrimination on all levels with no real accountability.

At that time, I worked with this GE and other people in this room on a potential grievance, but we didn’t think we were likely to win under our current contract language–we didn’t think we could even realistically get accountability for their direct supervisors’ discriminatory behavior in the workplace. As a result, this GE was too afraid and too burnt out and too intimidated by the idea of going through this traumatic process and still receiving no justice. Why would any GE bother pursuing a seemingly lost cause, at such a high cost to themselves, when justice is unlikely at best?

As you can probably tell from my reaction reading this testimony, I am angry. I am so angry that my friend was recruited here under the promise of inclusion and diversity, and then was systematically pushed out of their program. I am so angry that so many of my community members were treated this way, and continue to be treated this way. 

I am also angry that our contract doesn’t have strong enough language protecting trans GEs, because it makes people afraid to come forward with their experiences. They can’t trust that our contract will protect them.

Why should trans GEs ever pursue an Article 8 discrimination grievance when UO’s stated position is that persistent, ongoing misgendering from a direct supervisor is protected by so-called “religious freedom”? How can UO seriously claim on its websites and brochures to be “one of the friendliest colleges for LGBTQIA students” and then turn around and defend not just unintentional misgendering, but also specific, intentional, ideologically-motivated misgendering of employees by their direct superiors?

Maybe what is even more insulting is that UO’s bargaining team didn’t even bother to look up the actual law you used to justify striking our proposed language. That you would dismiss this problem entirely on the basis of a law you didn’t even care enough to google.

How is persistent, ongoing misgendering by a direct supervisor not a form of gender-based or gender identity discrimination? If a supervisor was constantly calling a cisgender male GE a “girl” and misgendering him as a way to undermine him, wouldn’t that constitute discriminatory behavior? Wouldn’t UO protect a cisgender male being misgendered by his direct supervisor in those situations? So why is a transgender GE not protected?

As another one of my trans community members once pointed out, a GE shouldn’t have to beg and scrape for the dignity of their supervisor using the correct pronouns. This is basic human dignity. Trans GEs need basic protections from being discriminated against by the people who already hold so much power over their lives.

Research shows that when people in the workplace use the correct pronouns and names for transgender people, this not only improves their career outcomes, but also their life outcomes by actually reducing the risk of suicide. The policy you defended last week in the name of “religious” freedoms was a defense of the exact kind of systematic discrimination that contributes to trans people losing their lives.

You can’t keep recruiting trans graduate employees to this institution under the promise of inclusion, only to create working conditions that no reasonable person could tolerate. Promises of more anti-discrimination training or reporting options aren’t enough; we need real accountability in our contract. 

You can either be an institution that leads the way in fighting for trans rights, or you can be an institution that enables violence against trans people. You have to pick a lane. Either protect your trans workers from discriminatory identity-based harassment and bullying from their direct supervisors, or stop hiding behind DEI language and admit that you don’t just care about your trans and gender nonconforming employees.