Quaker School Wins Religious Exemption to Exclude Trans Student From Campus Housing

As if the Hobby Lobby ruling wasn’t enough, news of troubling religious exemptions keeps rolling in. Today, it’s African American trans student Jayce M, who has been refused campus housing at George Fox University, a Quaker school.

Jayce M via PQMonthly.com

Jayce M via PQMonthly.com

After the Newberg, Oregon university denied Jayce’s repeated appeals for housing, his attorney filed a Title IX Discrimination suit with the U.S. Department of Education, reports PQ Monthly. This week, the department granted the school a religious exemption to the Title IX requirement. Jayce and his attorney were not aware George Fox had applied for the exemption.

Jayce has been known as a man socially for several years, explains his mother Janice in a Change.org petition garnering support for his case. “I want Jayce to be safe and to feel included in the campus community as he continues his education at George Fox and I want Jayce to be allowed to live in on-campus housing with his male friends,” she writes, noting that his friends have no problem sharing the dorm with him.

Overall, Jayce says he has received support and built community at the school. It seems to be the administration that is putting up barriers to his full inclusion — including announcing a plan to change its policy to include a rule that all dorm placements will be based on a student’s so-called “biological sex at birth.”

“I have a supportive community at George Fox, including my friends, faculty members and the students who are part of the unofficial LGBT & Allies club on campus called Common Ground,” Jayce told PQ in April. “I’m also not the only trans student on campus. I love the people at George Fox University.”

As queer and trans people become more visible and gain more civil rights, religious institutions are digging in their heels against perceived threats to their sanctity, and religious exemptions such as this one and those granted in last week’s Hobby Lobby ruling are becoming more common. Jayce’s lawyer, Paul Southwick, said he has not received any information about the nature of the request or the exemption itself despite repeated requests.

“After I received their letter, a representative from ED told me he was ‘not authorized’ to discuss the religious exemption with me,” Southwick said. “Normally, the ED decides whether to investigate a complaint within 30 days. In Jayce’s case, they made us wait about 90 days, all without telling us the real reason they were making us wait. We are going to appeal the ED’s ruling.”

Without seeing the ruling, it’s not clear what the basis of the university’s request was. Theologians and Christians have varying viewpoints about what the Bible says about transgender people. However, the Gospel is explicit about the responsibility of Christians to care for the oppressed — in the Gospel of Matthew, it’s identified as a requirement to enter Heaven. Those who feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned and invite in the stranger — in short, those who extend grace to the “least of these” — are as good as doing those actions to Jesus himself. So goes the parable. In Quakerism specifically, commitment to community, pursuit of equality, and honesty are often considered key parts of spiritual practice. The testimony of integrity calls for Quakers to deal honestly with others in word and deed; the testimony of equality calls for recognizing the equal dignity of all people and rejecting “all forms of discrimination.”

And yet a Quaker university is firm in its refusal to provide housing for one of its own students, and refusing to be transparent about the process. This is especially disappointing because of Quakers’ general reputation for being affirming and badass (although George Fox University belongs to an Evangelical branch of Quakerism that adopts more conservative Evangelical Christian beliefs than many Quaker communities). Darleen Ortega, a Quaker, George Fox alum, and judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals, said the school has been opaque in its handling of the case.

I see nothing in scripture or Friends theology that justifies or even supports the university’s position. What I find in scripture, instead, are calls for compassion and kindness to everyone. And I don’t understand how one can deal ethically with someone in Jayce’s situation without working to understand his circumstances and come alongside him. There is no clearer call to Christians and no practice more fundamental to Friends.

With the new school year just a few weeks away, Jayce and his supporters will continue to fight for his right to campus housing. And religious institutions and even private companies will likely continue to file for exemptions to laws designed to protect people’s basic human and civil rights.

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Adrian is a writer, a Texan and a Presbyterian pastor. They write about bisexuality, gender, religion, politics, music and a whole lot of feelings at Autostraddle and wherever fine words are sold. They have a dog named after Alison Bechdel. Follow Adrian on Twitter @adrianwhitetx.

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  1. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe George Fox is still a Quaker School. It was founded as one, but has long since been a non-denominational Christian institution. I suspect this wouldn’t be happening if it were Quaker.

    • Hey Gina! Unfortunately GFU is in fact Quaker — it’s part of Northwest Yearly Meeting, which is definitely a Quaker institution. Quakerism has multiple branches which can look very different in practice, and the one that GFU belongs to looks a lot like conservative Evangelical Christianity, but is definitely still Quaker. As a Quaker myself, I wish this wasn’t the case, but unfortunately it is :(

  2. My parents live not far from George Fox, I lived there for quite a while, its surprisingly conservative. It’s not far from Portland and one would think people would be more open minded. Some people are great but there are large groups of closed minded people. A friend of mine in high school was harassed at least weekly for being vocal about their identity. It is very saddening. Best wishes for Jayce <3

  3. Exemption claims like this ought to be subject to the same level of scrutiny as were conscientious-objector exemptions from the draft. They won’t be, but they ought to be.

  4. I was emailed the petition update for Jayce the other day, and they included some contact info for the president of George Fox University. If you want to call or email your support for Jayce, details are here: https://www.change.org/p/george-fox-university-stop-denying-my-transgender-son-appropriate-on-campus-housing/u/53c04e9e84aec80783bdb2a5?tk=CqRZuMNrwphhmOZC8GdAUWsEqGkAiDBEAD0Jrn5zo9I&utm_source=petition_update&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=petition_update_email

  5. I did a double take when I saw that this was a Quaker university. The Quaker religion that I’m familiar with is extremely accepting (I grew up in the Philadelphia area, where Quakers have a strong presence).

  6. There’s essentially three branches of Quakerism in the US. George Fox u is affiliated with the Evangelical branch. There are also Conservative and Liberal branches. The Evangelical branch is similar to many Evangelical movements and is sharply different from the other branches of Quakerism; about forty percent of Quakers worldwide are in this tradition. Liberal branches are the most open minded and what I think most people associate with Quakers. I attend one and it’s extremely progressive. This ruling really flies in the face of the Testimonies of Equality and Community.

  7. See, I been hearing so many good things about Quakers. And each time, in the front of my mind I’m like “Oh yay them! Maybe an actually good religion for once!” and the back of my mind is just repeating in a mantric monotone “Still a religion. Stay wary. Still a religion. Stay wary.”

    And now the back of my mind’s just looking crossly at the front of it, tapping its foot and saying with a silent glare: “What I tell you, huh?”

    • though, like several other people have said, this isn’t representative of all Quakerism just one branch of it, which, it sounds like, doesn’t have a ton in common with the other branches.

  8. Jayce is a friend of mine! Unfortunately, that’s my school… Free tuition via faculty parentals makes it hard not to go there. And yes, to confirm, they are evangelical Quakers, and yes, they do still identify as a Quaker college, although it’s certainly more broadly mainstream evangelical for the most part. I’ve found many wonderful and sympathetic faculty members and students, but like the article says, the administration has been problematic. It’s really disappointing to see them persist in grouping any non-binary cis hetero sexuality or gender identity or really anything under the umbrella of sexual immorality, because even if you’re going to take those parts of the bible literally, it says nothing about trans* issues.

  9. I’m a Quaker in the UK and I find this horrifying. In the UK there really is only one branch of Quakerism, I think that someone else has described as Liberal. We have unplanned worship where anyone and everyone can contribute regardless of their religious affiliation, or lack thereof. We are valued by the LGBTQ community because of our five testimonies (truth, equality, peace, simplicity, and environmet) equality is really the one on which the movement is founded – the idea that those who people believed were ordained by God were not the only ones who experienced God, and that arbitrary decisions of where to build churches shouldn’t limit where people could worship. Quakers believe that everyone has that of God in them – everyone is equally valid, be they criminals, clergymen, gay, trans, gender non-conforming, atheist, agnostic… everything. I have been to so many Quaker events where trans people have been dormed with the gender that they identify as. It’s so upsetting to see an organisation that to me should be the embodiment of inclusion and equality behaving in such a discriminatory way. I feel like I want to apologise on behalf of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

  10. This is crazy different to the UK Quakers who were the first religious sect to stand up against the clause in equal marriage that doesn’t allow us to marry in churches. The ‘religious protection’ section was something the Quakers really didn’t want. I don’t think that these guys can call themselves quakers in the same way a lot of people can’t call themselves christian. They are missing some of the finer points of the doctrine.

  11. I have a dear friend who is a Quaker and a trans woman, and is pretty passionate about both parts of her identity. I doubt she will be impressed by this.

    • This is what she said in response (shared with permission, with the caveat that it may be slightly inaccurate – as I guessed, she was not happy):

      During the early-mid 19th century, a wave of (mostly “fire & brimstone”) revivalism went through the Midwest and Quakers weren’t exempt from it.  A group splintered off from the main Friends organizations and started “Friends Churches” which retain some period of silent worship as in traditional Friends Meetings but also have sermons and sometimes hymns & other music as part of the services.

      I believe, overall, they tend to be more conservative and evangelical than traditional Friends Meetings which makes sense considering their origin.  There is, indeed, a Quaker Church in Berkeley, probably no more than about a half mile from the Meeting House.

      I suspect it may be from this tradition that George Fox University comes, though Fox was the founder of the Religious Society of Friends and certainly no advocate for a formal sermon, or for rejecting people because they were marginalized. had to say in reply (with permission, and with a caveat that this may be slightly inaccurate) – as I guessed, she was not pleased with the decision:

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