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UA-Fort Smith silences student 

Transgendered woman told to stop class lectures.

click to enlarge Jennifer Braly image
  • BRALY: Forbidden by school administration to give faculty-sanctioned lectures in classrooms.

Over the 2011-2012 academic year, Jennifer Braly, a University of Arkansas at Fort Smith psychology major with a 3.58 GPA, has given roughly 20 guest lectures on gender identity disorder (GID) to psychology and sociology classes on campus. Her lectures are meticulously researched and accompanied by a power-point presentation, but Braly's true qualification — what sets her lectures apart from other undergraduate reports — is her personal experience with GID. Braly was born a male, but a year ago, at age 36, she began taking hormones, had her name and gender changed on legal documents and assumed her new identity as a female.

Braly says her lectures have been well received, and several students have gone out of their way to e-mail positive feedback. One professor, Dr. Nicha Otero, wrote a letter of recommendation, chronicling the merits of her presentation, and its success at "open[ing] the doors to a greater understanding and appreciation of this too often misunderstood disorder."

But on April 19, Braly received an e-mail of a different sort from Dr. Rita Barrett, the chair of the psychology department: "I have heard quite a bit about your interest and vigor in visiting with my faculty and students. All of my faculty are now diligently preparing for the closure of the semester ... and it is impossible to afford more class time to accommodate an additional speaker at one week before finals. Therefore, your scheduled speaking engagements in any course in my department have been canceled.  This includes the two scheduled for tomorrow Friday April 20th in Dr. Laura King's [general psychology] classes."

Braly contacted King, who had been copied on the e-mail. "I knew that I had planned the lecture for this point in the semester. It fit with the topic, so we planned to go ahead," King said. She and Braly decided they would risk the consequences and at 9 a.m. Friday, April 20, Braly showed up at King's first class. But earlier in the morning, Dr. Henry Rinne, dean of the College of Social Sciences, had intercepted King and told her that under no circumstances should Braly be allowed to speak in any classroom setting.

"I was told by Dr. Rinne that there had been complaints about Jennifer's talk, that she was not considered to be a qualified expert, apparently because she didn't have an advanced degree. But I think someone with personal experience, who has also done personal research and is going through treatment, is a valid guest speaker. It's all about diversity and learning about people from different backgrounds, facing different issues,' " King said.

King didn't agree with the administration's decision, so she asked Rinne to tell her class. "The students were surprised and very unhappy. They asked Dr. Rinne to justify the administration's decision," she said. Rather than support the administration's position, King dismissed the day's class.

Braly has some idea as to why her lectures were canceled. "When Dr. King told the class they were having a transgendered speaker, one student was outraged. He kept saying foul stuff and ultimately, he was asked to leave class. Apparently, he complained to administration," she said. She also suspects that the school was trying to silence criticism of their own policies towards GID-affected students.

In March, Braly sued the university for discriminatory restroom and housing policies. She and the university are working towards an out-of-court compromise, but until last week, she was only permitted to use gender neutral restrooms. "There are a handful of these on the entire campus," Braly said. Last Monday, the university notified Braly that she is now welcome to use women's restrooms. She was also allowed to enter the on-campus housing lottery, provided she discloses her transgendered status to any prospective roommates.

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