Morehouse College, an all-male, historically black school in Atlanta, said it would open its enrollment to transgender men, a shift that comes as protections for those in the transgender community are under fire.
The school’s gender identity policy, which was announced on Saturday, will continue to ban from enrollment anyone who identifies as a woman.
David A. Thomas, the president of the college, said the decision was driven by a greater awareness of gender identity and the college’s need to have a clear policy.
“We found that when our admission representatives were going out, oftentimes people would ask them, ‘Does Morehouse admit transgender people?’” he said on Sunday.
The new policy states that “once admitted, students are expected to continue to self-identify as men throughout their matriculation.”
Morehouse is not the first all-male institution in the country to change its policy to allow transgender men. In 2016, St. John’s University, an all-male school in Collegeville, Minn., changed its policy to consider “applicants who consistently live and identify as men, regardless of the gender assigned to them at birth.”
The new policy at Morehouse, which has 2,200 students, comes as the transgender community faces a breakdown of protections under federal civil rights law. The Obama administration helped to broaden these protections through a series of decisions that loosened the legal concept of gender in federal programs.
The Trump administration, however, is trying to define gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth. This definition would affect 1.4 million Americans who identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.
Morehouse announced its new policy a day after the United States military implemented its policy for transgender troops, which allows transgender people to enlist but only if they present as the gender they were assigned at birth. They are also not allowed to transition while in the military.
A Morehouse student, Marquintas Oldham, 21, who identifies as “queer, non-binary” and who prefers to use the pronouns “they” and “their,” instead of singular pronouns, said their existence was being erased. Students such as Mx. Oldham said they identified as men when they were initially enrolled but no longer do.
“Who I am on this campus, they are trying to kind of like remove me from self-identifying myself,” Mx. Oldham said. “They said in their policy that they are going to still use male-gendered language and that affects me. Sometimes I do dress as a feminine, non-binary person, so when I dress the way I want to dress and it’s a problem, that affects me.”
Mx. Oldham, who is set to graduate in 2021, transitioned while they were enrolled. “I knew I was part of the queer community, I knew I was gay, but I got here to Morehouse and this was different for me,” Mx. Oldham said. “I decided to just live.”
Transgender students who began to transition while attending Morehouse and now identify as women said the new policy ostracized them. Tatiana Rafael, 28, a Morehouse student, was accepted when she identified as male and transitioned to female while she was enrolled.
“It is very lonely being the only transsexual woman on campus,” Ms. Rafael said. “I feel erased and marginalized most of the time because the image that Morehouse presents is the all-male image and in that image they don’t make room for a trans woman.”
Under the policy, a student who transitions from male to female would no longer be eligible to matriculate at Morehouse. It was unclear how many students might be in transition.
Mr. Thomas, the president of the college, said he was “not aware as to whether currently we have a trans man on campus.”
“The policy was not driven by trans individuals who are on the campus,” Mr. Thomas said. “Our students were unclear if we were welcoming or open to transgender men applying. It wasn’t stirred by transgender men on campus.”
Founded in 1867, Morehouse has historically been an all-male institution. Rashad Raymond Moore, 29, who graduated from Morehouse in 2012, said keeping the college all male was at the crux of the school’s history.
“It is the only black institution in the United States that is dedicated to the intellectual and moral formation of black men and to allow trans women to enroll or matriculate or graduate from Morehouse would change the moral fiber of the institution completely,” he said on Sunday.
He said the new policy was a move in the right direction.
“I do believe Morehouse needs to move forward in an intentional way,” he said, adding that the culture of the campus also needed to change to support transgender men.
Mx. Oldham said that leaving or transferring to another school was not an option because they felt at home at Morehouse.
“Morehouse has brought me the best education that I’ve ever had,” Mx. Oldham said. “Being here is a dream come true because this is the college that I love.”