Transgender man accuses Pitt of sex discrimination
April 17, 2012 9:00 AM
Seamus Johnston, left, filed a complaint Monday with the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations that charges officials at the University of Pittsburgh with discrimination.
By Michael A. Fuoco Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A transgender man expelled in January from the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown for defying the school's edict not to use the men's locker room filed a complaint Monday with the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, charging school officials with discrimination.
The complaint is the latest volley in Seamus Johnston's ongoing battle with Pitt over its transgender policy, which requires individuals to use restroom and locker room facilities based on the gender indicated on their birth certificates.
His dispute with the university, publicized both within and outside the university, has piqued the interest of FBI agents investigating bomb threats at the Oakland campus. Mr. Johnston, 22, and his partner, Katherine Anne McCloskey, 56, a transgender woman, were interviewed by agents Wednesday at their apartment in Jackson Township, Cambria County. The next day, they were subpoenaed to appear today before a federal grand jury.
Transgender couple talk about investigation, complaint filing
Transgender couple Seamus Johnston and Katherine McCloskey talk with the PG's Mike Fuoco about the bomb threat investigation and a discrimination complaint filed with the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations. (Video by Melissa Tkach; 4/16/2012)
Mr. Johnston said agents told him he was being investigated in the bomb threats because of his expulsion from the university. Ms. McCloskey said the agents indicated the couple were persons of interest in the probe.
Both deny any involvement or knowledge of the three dozen bomb threats, many affecting multiple buildings. The threats continued Monday, forcing the evacuation of three university buildings.
In his discrimination complaint -- filed with the city commission because Pitt's main campus and top administrators are in Pittsburgh -- Mr. Johnston alleges that the school violated the city code relating to discrimination on the basis of sex and handicap.
Mr. Johnston, who was born female but who identifies as male, was adjudged as fully disabled by the Social Security Administration in May "for a variety of emotional liabilities that included gender identity disorder," the complaint notes. He has been taking hormone treatment for 10 months.
Formerly a dean's list junior and a computer science major, Mr. Johnston was expelled from the school after he was arrested by Pitt police in November for repeatedly using men's locker room facilities on the Johnstown campus despite being told not to do so. Pitt had offered him use of a private locker room, which Mr. Johnston used for a time before informing the school he would resume using the men's facilities.
Mr. Johnston, who lost an appeal of his expulsion, plans to seek reinstatement from Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, the next step in the process. He is awaiting trial on three misdemeanor charges -- indecent exposure, defiant trespass and disorderly conduct -- filed by Pitt police in the campus incident.
Specifically named in the suit as allowing the discrimination to take place are Mr. Nordenberg, provost Patricia E. Beeson, general counsel Jerome Cochran and attorney Ted Fritz.
Mr. Johnston said his goal in filing the complaint is twofold.
"One, I'm hoping the Human Relations Commission will be able to put enough pressure on the university that they stop this ridiculous policy and that every other trans person going to Pitt is treated decently," he said.
"And the second [reason], which I suppose is less likely to happen, is I hope the pressure is enough to get them to drop the criminal charges against me."
Charles Morrison, the commission's director, said after receiving notification, Pitt will have 30 days to respond to the complaint. After that, Mr. Johnston would have a month to rebut Pitt's response.
The commission would work with both parties to attempt to resolve the dispute. Failing at that, the commission will probe the matter further, a process that could result in a hearing.
"This is a touchy area because it involves bathrooms," Mr. Morrison said. "We're not talking about somebody being admitted to a club or somebody being able to rent a room in a hotel. We're talking about use of bathrooms, locker rooms, things of that nature."
In Pittsburgh, Mr. Morrison said, such disputes have not been common.
"The law says you can't discriminate against someone based on sex.
"This definition covers people who are changing or who have changed their gender identity, so they're included," he said.
At the same time, Mr. Morrison added, "What I don't know is what happened in this case," and whether there was an underlying incident or action by one or both of the parties, which would make the question of gender identification secondary.