January 14th, 2013 9:00pm
By Caroline Wall
On Friday, the Winston-Salem Journal published a headline story that ignited a firestorm of controversy. The article, written by John Hinton, claimed that there is a student at Salem College who is close to completing a gender reassignment surgery. This is not true. The Journal did not speak with the student or the student’s physician for their article. CCD has spoken to the student and learned that the student in question has not even undergone a partial gender-reassignment. However, the story has been widely circulated, including semi-national attention gained by being picked up by Rush Limbaugh.
The article attempted to present a look at Salem College’s pending transgender policy through the eyes of an alum who is upset about a procedure that a current Salem student had allegedly undergone. Hinton, the reporter on the story, made claims that this particular student will complete a transition from female to male in the month of February. This is simply untrue.
An unfamiliar and perhaps complicated topic for many, the terms used to discuss it are easily definable. A transgender individual is one who identifies differently than their medically assigned sex. For example, some biological females may identify themselves as males. A transsexual person is someone who has completed the long process of sex reassignment which includes surgeries as well as hormone therapy. A cisgender individual is one who identifies their gender with their assigned sex.
The coming transgender policy at Salem College will address how to move forward in a scenario in which a female student begins the process of gender transitioning while a student at the College. In The Winston-Salem Journal article, an alum by the name of Annie Webb states her concerns of a transgender policy forcing the campus to be co-ed. However, the policy in review at this time does not have anything to do with a specific student or moving to a co-ed campus.
Michelle Melton, the news media contact and public relations supervisor of Salem College presents the administrative view that “the policy is solely focused on transgender students and will be applied only to undergraduate, residential students. The board is not querying or gauging interest in transitioning to a co-ed campus.” To address any concerns about the particular student mentioned in the Journal article, she states: “We will not discuss personal information for any student and work to maintain all students’ privacy.”
As Salem College said in a released statement:
“Of paramount import to the board and administration are the health, safety and security of Salem College students. They take seriously the responsibility for students’ well being. Therefore, we will not discuss personal information for any student and work to maintain all students’ privacy. Protection of personal information is governed by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, Salem’s policies, and federal and state laws and regulations. We do not anticipate having further comment until solicitation of input from faculty, staff, students and alumnae is complete, due diligence has been performed and a policy has been written.”
Many current Salem students are upset by the claims and controversy stirred by this article. Some have spoken out against the fears of the college becoming co-ed and against gender biases and negative focuses on people’s sexual orientation.
Bronte Emery, a senior at Salem College told CCD, “For someone to insinuate that having an open transgender policy at Salem College would make our institution co-ed does nothing but reinforce gender binaries and negative heteronormative attitudes.” She continues by adding: “In my experience, Salem is a safe space for everyone, especially when it comes to gender identity and sexual orientation. We should uphold our integrity as an institution of honor and respect every student’s identity. Accepting trans* individuals into our student body would make Salem College stand out as a leader in the Winston-Salem community, which we desperately need to help change society’s narrow view on gender identities and sexuality.”
A student who chose not to be named at added, “As a Salem College student who identifies as transgender, I am deeply concerned that those associated with the school would consider a transgender policy the gateway into a co-educational campus. Rather, an open and affirming policy would uphold Salem’s longstanding tradition of acceptance.”
Rush Limbaugh weighing in on the subject today included the use of crass language like “chick” and “addadictomy babe” to describe the student in question. Mr. Limbaugh used the information taken from the Winston-Salem Journal article telling his audience:
“An undergraduate student at a small women’s college in North Carolina –” As opposed to a large women’s college. This is a college in North Carolina for small women. An undergraduate student there “is seeking permission to stay at the school — and live on campus — after she undergoes gender reassignment surgery in February, which will finalize her transformation into a man.” There is at present an undergrad student at the small women’s college in North Carolina who is undergoing addadictomy procedures, and she is requesting to stay on campus after the gender reassignment surgery is complete in February.
The school is Salem College. Officials there “are now considering the thorny issue, reports the Winston-Salem Journal. Michelle Melton, Salem’s director of communications, would not identify the transgender student. She cited federal privacy laws, as well as the school’s confidentiality policies, according to the Journal.” There are more than 1,100 students. Eight hundred undergrads are all female, and only females are currently allowed to live on campus. Men who are at least 23 can participate in teacher education graduate programs and can take adult education courses, but they cannot live or be part of the undergrad campus. That’s what’s revolutionary here. The addadictomy babe wants to stay on campus.”
And Limbaugh continued his tirade:
“You know, the real question to me about the addadic chick at the small women’s college is whether or not he will be able to get free birth control after the surgery. That’s what matters on campus these days, is whether or not the women get free birth control paid for by us. So will the addadic chick need birth control? A very, very thorny issue at Salem college. I mean, you got 1,100 students, you got one woman unhappy, or one future man unhappy. It’s gotta be tough for ‘em.”
Limbaugh and the far-right Daily Caller stuck mostly to the “facts” as laid out in the Journal piece. The story is out now becoming a new meme for far-right gad-flies and grist for local media. Salem Students are now reacting on blogs, social networking sites, and in a story run tonight by Fox 8.
This fire may have been lit on the wrong campus.