CCM students question freedoms before next census

BY KELBY K. CLARK
Features Editor

Various groups of people throughout the world still face severe inequality in their countries and struggle for their voices to be heard.

While many nations remain stagnant in their approach to solving this issue, there are countries in South Asia, such as India and Nepal that have been making tremendous progress.

“India’s 2011 national census . . . includes not just the usual two gender categories, but for the first time a third one, called ‘other.’ The national census in Nepal, to be conducted in May, will include three gender options, prompted by a ruling by that nation’s highest court ordering greater protections for the rights of LGBT citizens,” according to the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit research group. “The change on the census form has generated many stories in the Indian press.”

The rhetorical change made by the Indian and Nepali governments causes American citizens to examine and scrutinize the quality and inclusivity of their own country’s census. For many County College of Morris students there is overwhelming concern as to whether the U.S. census contains the necessary variety of word options for members of the LGBT community and other minorities to accurately define themselves.
Kacie Elms, president of the CCM Gay Straight Alliance, said there is not much “leeway” when it comes to defining gender on the census form.

“Most applications I’ve seen use gender, but they mean born sex. Gender is something you feel inside and what feels right; sex is what you are born with,” Elms said. “It does not give a lot of room for interpretation, just like you can put down you’re a Christian, but that can mean a thousand different things.”

The presence of a third sex option has been discussed and, in certain countries, has been implemented, hoping that it would eliminate the exclusion of the transgender or intersex groups in legal documents.
“I feel as though the majority of documents that Americans are required to fill out do not provide options for transgender people when defining gender,” said Lori Fredrickson, graphic design major and vice president of the Gay Straight Alliance at CCM. “It should be a major issue for all people. Gender identity does not have to be a rigid, cut and dry thing. To omit options for transgender people is to invalidate their existence.”

The third sex option is not a recent concept in many parts of the world. It actually appears in historical references at least as early as second century B.C.E; however, the inclusion of a third option for sex on a traditional census form is new, according to a blog post on the Population Reference Bureau site.

The third sex option on censuses and many other documents is often listed as “other,” and although many people see this as a solution to the exclusivity of transgender and intersex groups, many others view it as offensive and the start of another problem.

“Personally, to think that I’d have to select ‘other’ for something basic like that, it just doesn’t feel right,” Elms said. “It’s weird that we’re still in that homophobic and transphobic state as a country and it is holding us back.”

“The people who create these documents need to speak with transgender advocacy groups to get advice on how best to word them so that they are inclusive in the broadest possible way,” Fredrickson said.
Many experts like Serena Nanda, an author and cultural anthropologist has commented on the homophobic and transgender phobic mindset of the U.S. in an interview with the U.K. morning newspaper, The Independent.

“Many other cultures have similar roles, including indigenous cultures who value gender bending and blending. Or, even if they do not value them, they make room for them,” Nanda said. “The question I would ask is why Western culture, especially in the U.S., is so transgender phobic.”
Some CCM students agree with Nanda. They believe that the limited options on the U.S. census form are clear evidence of the country’s attitude toward sex and gender identity. As a result, many feel it is time to address this issue.

“When dealing with an incredibly broad sampling of people,” Fredrickson said, “consideration must be taken so that no one group of people feels.

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