Hoffman is the GenderYOUTH Campus Director for Gender Public
Advocacy Coalition (GenderPAC) in Washington, DC, she can be
reached at: Brittney.Hoffman@gpac.org.
I never really had to think about my gender identity or expression.
I identify as a female, which so happens to correspond to my
assigned sex at birth. I have long hair. I feel comfortable wearing
skirts (and pants). I wear make up. When making a decision about
which restroom to use, the only pause I ever had to take was
outside the bathroom door waiting in the inevitably long line for
the “women’s” restroom. It wasn’t until college when I started to
ask different questions about my gender and the gendered
environment around me.
I had a lot of friends in college whose gender identity was no
longer a given. Short hair, strong bodies, pants and ties – these
women challenged my own gender stereotypes and those of their
campuses and cultures. During my four years on campus, I was often
asked to accompany my friends to the restroom in a dorm, a dining
hall, a gas station or a restaurant. For awhile, I just thought it
was the usual group trip to the bathroom to chat about the failures
that were our dates or to laugh about some mundane detail of our
But one time, I didn’t want to go. I was preoccupied, busy, tired.
My friend looked at me, took my hand and said, “But I need them to
know that I’m a girl.” Without me, she said, she couldn’t pass, and
if she didn’t pass she didn’t feel safe.
In a recent survey conducted by the Gender Public Advocacy
Coalition (GenderPAC) reports that nearly 1/3 of the students who
responded reported experiencing harassment for not meeting
expectations for femininity or masculinity. One in four respondents
of color reported similar instances of discrimination and
harassment. Gender, race, and sex continue to intersect in these
moments of miscommunication, prejudice, and violence. These were
not isolated incidents – this is an epidemic. And it affects all of
us – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, straight and
Inspired by my friends’ experiences with gender-based
discrimination both on college campuses and in the “real world,” I
dedicated my academic and professional careers to the pursuit of
gender and human rights. After completing my degree, it was time to
put theory into practice, so I came to GenderPAC to advocate on
behalf of all students to learn, grow and succeed – whether or not
they meet expectations for femininity or masculinity.
As the Campus Director for the GenderYOUTH program, I work with
over 300 progressive youth leaders working to create GenderSAFET
campuses – supportive, protective and equitable for all students.
And, similar to my experiences with my close friends, so many of
the youth involved with the network report similar stresses,
anxieties and fears of gender-based harassment on campus, including
concerns about school policies, availability of gender-neutral
restroom and gender-neutral housing options.
GPAC has published the 2nd edition of the GENIUS Index (Gender
Equality National Index for Universities and Schools) to track and
evaluate the efforts of colleges, universities, and K-12 school
districts to prohibit discrimination and promote awareness of
gender identity and expression in their policies.
By providing students with better options – a bathroom where you
don’t have to defend your gender, or an application that allows you
to choose a roommate based on true compatibility and not biological
sex – GenderSAFET campuses attract and retain the best and
brightest the US has to offer. GenderSAFET campuses create
environments where students can achieve their potential without
barriers imposed by gender stereotypes. They provide a rich and
inclusive campus where students can feel comfortable expressing
their whole selves.
Just over ten years ago, not a single college or university was
talking about gender inclusion. Today, according to the GENIUS
Index, there are close to 150 colleges and universities with
“gender identity and expression” protections in their
non-discrimination policies, including two-thirds of the Top 25
Universities in the U.S. More than 140 campuses provide
gender-neutral restrooms. And 30 campuses provide gender-neutral
housing options. This movement may be new, but it shows no signs on
When educators, school administrators, and students come back to
school this fall, it’s time to start asking some bigger questions
about gender and the gendered environment they create or
perpetuate. Two thirds of our nation’s top colleges and
universities have acted to alleviate gender-based violence and
harassment. When will the rest?