Transgender student claims discrimination


Transgender student Seamus Johnston.

Andy Hsiao Chung, Staff Writer

Seamus Johnston trudged toward  locker rooms for a shower after a Monday weight-training class, just like it was any other Monday at the Sports Center.

This time, however, he did not make his regular left turn to the men’s locker room.

Instead, he was to shower alone in a solitary locker room designated for referees.

Johnston, 22, is a transgendered Pitt-Johnstown student. He wore a tie-dyed short-sleeved T-shirt over a long-sleeved blue shirt.

His hair is trimmed, well combed, and his earrings shimmer under fluorescent lights.

“I was approached by (Executive Director of Health & Wellness Services) Theresa Horner,” said Johnston.

“She told me that they had received complaints (from other men) and wanted to make alternate arrangements.”

Johnston fell silent, gazing out the window. He continued.

“I spoke with her, and agreed to something temporarily (to shower in the referees’ room). Then I went to (Vice President of Student Affairs) Jon Wescott, because he was the one responsible for making this decision.

“And when he appeared to not want to discuss this issue any further, I approached the president about it. And he, likewise, was reluctant to respond helpfully.”

Pitt-Johnstown President Jem Spectar replied  Oct. 21 recommending Johnston  meet with Senior Officer for Equity and Inclusion Laura Perry-Thompson to discuss further “concerns, and to explore an appropriate resolution.

“We desire to address this issue in a fashion that not only allays your concerns but those voiced by other students as well,” said Spectar.

“I want to take this opportunity to emphasize that the University is committed to ensuring appropriate access to all its facilities by all students as required by law.”

Spectar asserted that several university officials had taken “appropriate actions to date.”

However, Johnston was not satisfied.

On Oct. 24, three days later, Johnston responded to Spectar’s letter.

He said his letter that he had seen no intention of complying with the laws of the United States, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or the regulations of the University of Pittsburgh on the university’s behalf.

Johnston said the situation was not a misunderstanding, and said he is the victim of a crime.

“Therefore, I will ask the U.S. Attorney, the Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania and The District Attorney of Cambria County to prepare charges that I may (file).

“I will prepare an affidavit of probable cause asking for your arrest and that of Registrar Marilyn Alberter, Director Theresa Horner, Vice President Jonathan Wescott and attorney Ted Fritz.”

Spectar’s secretary Sue Palov said Spectar is fully aware of the current situation, but declined to comment on the matter.

Johnston said his intent is to fight for the right to shower in other men’s presence.

His expectations were clear, and felt that the current situation was unacceptable.

Education, in Johnston’s opinion, was the best way the university could’ve handled this situation.

“Some universities have brought in speakers to talk with their sports teams, and this gives the athletes and students a chance to think about their own feelings – instead of either their needs or my needs being ignored.”

A similar case occurred in 2008, when a public school in Colorado built two unisex bathrooms and adjusted teaching environments to accommodate an 8-year-old transgendered pupil.

A CNN Prime News host interviewed the Trans Youth Family Advocates Executive Director, Kim Pearson, for her thoughts shortly after. She said she thought the situation was handled well.

Shannon Garcia, an advocates’ representative said  she knows nothing about this particular situation.

However, she said, “Anytime a particular individual is singled out, regardless of the reason, it is usually not a good solution.

“Handicapped people are not segregated to different bathrooms (but) are accommodated in the regular bathrooms that others use.

“If this particular student is the only one using the facilities that they are offering, then I would feel that perhaps a better solution could be found.

“It would also be of interest to find out if the university or the town… has an anti-discrimination policy or ordinance protecting gender expression and/or identity. If so, they would be in direct violation of that policy.”

Cristin Williams, a representative at The Transgender Foundation of America, declined to comment on Johnston’s case, but said the foundation “supports full 14th amendment guarantees for all transgender citizens of the United States.”

Johnston, though, questioned whether the university will take any further action regarding his protests.

“I don’t think the complaints will be heard. I think the only way is to go to a judge, and say to the judge ‘I want my complaints to be heard.’

“That might take a long time. The university will have to send lawyers to all of these, and the lawyers are expensive. So, it’s going to hurt the university financially. And, the media coverage will be somewhat embarrassing.

“So I think, basically, what I’d like to have happen, is for them to realize that it was a very bad idea to do this, and  other transgender students that might come here, won’t be treated this way. “