[Content note: transphobia, suicide]
Yesterday I returned my diplomas to the University of Pittsburgh, along with this letter to the chancellor. In time, I’ll probably have more to say, but for the moment, I’m simply too drained. Here’s the letter, with hyperlinks added for context.
Dear Chancellor Gallagher:
I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing today as a concerned alumna of the University of Pittsburgh. Recent news has made me aware of our university’s resolute failure to provide a safe and welcoming environment for its transgender students, faculty, and staff. This failure is symbolized by the Johnstown campus’s 2012 expulsion of Seamus Johnston, the subsequent announcement of a policy that forbids many trans students from using sex-segregated facilities that match their gender, and your administration’s April response to the ruling in Johnston vs. The University of Pittsburgh, in which you disingenuously asserted that it was “never [y]our intent to violate anyone’s rights.”
Our university’s actions have been reckless and wrong. My studies in biology and the philosophy of science inform my conclusion that your administration’s actions are informed less by a profound misinterpretation of science than they are by dated discourse on religion and social order.
I’m not merely concerned about the technicality of your administration’s failure. While at Pitt, I struggled (as most students do) to balance my academic development with my evolving sense of self. I did so on a campus that lacked visible role models for a young trans woman. My difficulties were such that in 1997, I briefly withdrew from the university following a pair of unsuccessful suicide attempts.
I do not blame the university for my past struggles. I raise them because it is important for you to realize the implications of your administration’s harmful policies. Eighteen years after my darkest semester, I unequivocally do blame your university for failing to create a space where all community members can balance professional development with healthy personal growth.
Thus, I write this letter for both you, and the LGBT community at Pitt. I desperately hope that your administration reverses its dangerous policies on gender-segregated spaces such that it recognizes the reality of trans lives within and beyond the gender binary. Additionally, I need your administration to change the tenor of its interactions with trans people from that of bureaucracy impatient with those who cloud its worldview to that of a university celebrating the accomplishments and potential of valued members of its family.
If your administration will not affirm the dignity of its transgender students, faculty, and staff, I will. I understand that there are trans and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who are thriving at Pitt, but there are also those who are struggling. They have my love and support. I call for other members of the Pitt community to affirm the same.
Given your administration’s refusal to embrace Pitt’s transgender population, I cannot in good conscience continue my affiliation with my alma mater. Please find enclosed my diplomas (a Bachelor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts for studies in the history and philosophy of science) along with the university pennant that adorned my previous offices in the academy. I would be more than happy to reclaim them at such time as the University of Pittsburgh sees fit to welcome people like me.
Katherine Janet Forbes, PhD, Chancellor’s Scholar (Fall 1996 Freshman Class)
Cc: Dr. Jem Spectar, President, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
Dr. Edward Stricker, Dean, University of Pittsburgh Honors College
Dr. Paula Grabowski, Chair, Department of Biological Sciences (Oakland)
Dr. James Lennox, Chair, Department of History and Philosophy of Science (Oakland)
Rainbow Alliance, University of Pittsburgh (Oakland)